Tag Archives: Canadian

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 This has been replaced by a younger no-age-statement “small batch” version in U.S. Note the 12yo version has a fairly pronounced “oaky” character.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.

 

66 Gilead – Crimson Rye and Wild Oak

I’m a late entry on the Canadian whisky scene for these whiskies.  Like my review of the Collingwood 21 yo, these two reviews come about as a result of recent “mystery swaps” that I have done with other whisky enthusiasts on the whisky network of Reddit.

This is a fun challenge whereby you hone your whisky sensory analysis skills by tasting (and reviewing) whiskies “blind”. In this case, I had two mystery samples from redditor 89Justin, with no indication as to what was in the bottles (no info on country, style, ABV, etc.).  See my full reviews there to see how well I did in my guesses for these two whiskies.

Unlike the Collingwood experience, you can actually still buy these two 66 Gilead whiskies – but probably not for much longer.  They were recently marked down to $40 CAD for clearance at the LCBO, so you may need to hunt around to find a local store that still carries them.

Based in the Prince Edward County region of Ontario, 66 Gilead could best be described as a craft distiller.  With their close association to wine makers in the area, they have had the ability to experiment with some interesting barrel finishes.  Their two signature whiskies are the Crimson Oak (finished in red wine casks, mainly pinot noir, and made up of 100% unmalted rye) and Wild Oak (done “bourbon-style”, matured in new charred oak casks with a custom mashbill of 51% corn, followed by rye, wheat and peated barley, in that order). I don’t know the exact age of the whiskies, but they are both believed to be young (i.e., I’ve seen 3.5 to 4.5 year old estimates online). Both are bottled at an impressive 47% ABV.

They don’t score particularly highly for Canadian whiskies – here is how they compare to other Canadian “craft-like” whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

66 Gilead Crimson Rye: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($$)
66 Gilead The Wild Oak: 7.99 ± 0.58 on 5 reviews ($$)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.63 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Rockies 21 yo: 9.04 ± 0.29 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Danfield’s 21 yo: 8.61 ± 0.56 on 12 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Evolution: 8.85 ± 0.65 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.80 ± 0.39 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony: 8.26 ± 0.59 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Glen Breton Ice 10yo: 8.24 ± 0.63 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton Rare 10yo: 8.06 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.64 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.89 ± 0.29 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10 yo: 8.22 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($$)

Below are my tasting notes.


66.Gilead.Crimson66 Gilead Crimson Oak

Colour: Slightly rose-tinted, dark orange/red-brown

Nose: Very fruit sweet with rich grape, raisins, plums, prunes, pears and apricot notes. I initially guessed port-finished, as this is fruitier than a typical sherry-finish. Dry, dusty rye baking spices, with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. Gingerbread baking in the oven. Not really malty, but some cereal (grape nuts comes to mind). No off notes, but hard to tell under all that fruity sweetness.

Palate: Heavy spicy kick, with lots of rye spice and pepper. Same fruitiness as the nose, with maybe a bit of citrus (judging from the mouth pucker). Raw and extreme on first sip, seems youthful. Definitely very hot. Recommend small sips, letting it mix with saliva. A bit of bitterness on the finish.

Finish: Fairly long lasting, due to the spicy kick and heat. A bit oaky. Some artificial sweetness creeps in over time, unfortunately.  Cinnamon lasts until the end (cinnamon red hots in particular).

A bit two-dimensional, with searing hot spice/pepper and heavy grape-like sweetness. Those two dimensions really dominate.  While simple, I kind of like it – it is certainly bold (and thus likely too hot for most people).  A bit like an amped-up version of Alberta Premium Dark Horse, but with even more sweet fruit and spicy rye kick.

Not sure if I could recommend it to most, but I personally would rank it a bit higher than the consensus Meta-Critic score for my personal palate.


66.Gilead.Oak66 Gilead Wild Oak

Colour: Typical light gold

Nose: Sweet, with light fruits, like pear and apple – also citrus (grapefruit). Some rye spices. Very woody. A bit of solvent smell, mixed with old sweat socks.  Not as bad as it sounds, but not very distinctive either.

Palate:  Not really detecting a lot of fruit. Rye spices are most prominent, mainly cinnamon and cloves. Tons of vanilla, and bit of caramel as well. Definitely oaky. Slight bitterness hiding under the sweetness (which quickly veers into the artificial sweetener realm, unfortunately). Good spicy kick to it. Somewhat watery mouthfeel for 47% ABV.

Finish:  Medium short.  Not really that much of interest going on.  Seemed to me originally like a light, young, entry-level Canadian whisky, but with some added spice and heavy oak presence. Unfortunately, the oaky bitterness lingers the longest.

There is a lot heat on this one too – both alcohol burn and rye spice (although it is not as searingly spicy hot as the Crimson Rye). Unfortunately, I don’t find much else going on here. Ironically, it seems both under-aged (i.e., young, with raw distillate notes) and over-oaked (from the bitterness and woody flavours). Maybe a cask preparation issue?

Not quite sure what would need to be done to improve this, but I really can’t recommend it in its current form.  I find the Meta-critic score to be reasonable.


Definitely an interesting experience to try these two whiskies blind as to the contents. I’m intrigued enough by the Crimson Rye to consider picking up a bottle at the LCBO. But be forewarned if you considering buying it un-tasted – you better really like wine-based fruit flavours and cinnamon red hots!

Generally positive reviews for these two whiskies come from Davin of Whisky Advocate. Jason of Whisky Won is also generally supportive of the Crimson Rye, less so for the Wild Oak. The guys at Quebec Whisky were not enthused about either (although again gave Crimson Oak a better score). The redditor muaddib99 has the most positive reviews I’ve seen online for both the Crimson Rye and Wild Oak.

Glen Breton Rare 10 Year Old

Now here’s something you don’t get to say every day: welcome to my review of a Canadian single malt whisky.

Produced by Glenora distillery in Nova Scotia, Glen Breton is the first example of a true single malt whisky made in Canada.  Although a few others have now joined the fray, Glenora is to be commended for bringing this classic Scottish style of whisky-making to Canada.

Many outside of Canada (or within for that matter) may not realize that early Canadian whisky traditions stem as much from Dutch and German settlers as they do from Scottish ones. Although more American and Irish processes eventually worked their way in, the common use of rye as a flavouring element is a tip-off to the typically different growing conditions in Canada. But what better place in Canada to start a single malt distillery than in Nova Scotia (i.e., “New Scotland”), where the largest single ethnic group comprises those of Scottish decent.

Interestingly, Glenora also has a long history in fighting for its right to call this whisky Glen Breton.  The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) – a trade organization that protects the interests of the scotch whisky industry both within Scotland and around the world – tried to bar the use of the name. Apparently, they felt that only scotch whisky could be called a “glen” and so took Glenora to court. After moving through various boards and courts, the Supreme Court of Canada eventually dismissed SWA’s claim with costs awarded to Glenora.  Score one for the little guy – Glen Breton (with its proud Canadian maple leaf on every bottle) could now get back to actually focusing on its whisky.

Here is how the various common Glen Breton expressions fare in my Meta-Critic whisky database, along with the other available Canadian single malt:

Glen Breton 21yo: 8.28 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton Battle of the Glen 15yo: 8.55 ± 0.30 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Glen Breton Ice 10yo: 8.24 ± 0.64 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo: 8.06 ± 0.66 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton Rare 10yo: 8.06 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel Single Malt (All Casks): 8.25 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$)

And here is a comparison to well-known scotch whiskies of similar flavour profile and age to the Glen Breton Rare 10 yo:

AnCnoc 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 10yo: 8.56 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 10yo: 7.86 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.13 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.12 ± 0.45 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Deanston Virgin Oak: 8.18 ± 0.46 on 11 reviews ($$)
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.33 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Glen Moray Classic: 7.95 ± 0.23 on 5 reviews ($)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.08 ± 0.25 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Glengoyne 10yo: 8.22 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie 10yo: 8.48 ± 0.46 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Hazelburn 8yo: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Loch Lomond: 7.37 ± 0.47 on 7 reviews ($)
Tamdhu 10yo: 8.18 ± 0.65 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Tamnavulin 12yo: 7.63 ± 0.89 on 4 reviews ($$)

As previously noted, these lighter flavour malts get lower scores than richer tasting whiskies.  For the range, Glen Breton Rare 10 yo falls into the lower end (although does better than some above). Unfortunately, it is also among the most expensive of the whiskies listed above, likely due to the significant setup costs for Glenora.

I recently sample this whisky at a bar in Nova Scotia, with a pour from a recently opened bottle. Here is what I found in the glass for this entry-level Rare 10 yo:

Nose: Light sweet honey. Citrus and the lighter fruits, including apple. Fruit blossoms, hay, and a light floral scent (can’t really identify specific flowers though). Some maltiness and cereal coming through. There is a detectable solvent smell, and some dry alcohol heat, unfortunately. Reminds me a lot of the base Glenmorangie spirit (i.e., the Glenmo 10 year old). Pretty decent overall, but it would be excellent if they could trim the solvent/alcohol fumes a bit.

Palate: Initially, the same light sweet honey note as the nose. I quickly get a bit of tongue tingle, and an unusually hot sensation. Odd that, since it has a somewhat thin and watery mouthfeel otherwise. The floral feature is there, with heather in particular, and something else aromatic that I can’t quite place. A bit of mild spice, especially nutmeg. Unfortunately, I’m getting a strong solvent taste (glue), which reminds me of some of the cheaper scotch blends. Combined with the alcohol burn, I suspect this will give me heartburn later tonight.

Finish: Not much of one, I’m afraid. A mix of artificial sweetener and oaky bitterness mainly, like a young Crown Royal. Too hot as well.

Glen.Breton.Rare.10Given the off-notes I’m detecting, I believe this whisky needs more time in the barrel to age into an interesting product. Compared to other scotch whiskies I’ve had, this tastes much younger than its stated 10 year age. It has potential though, as there is something interestingly floral about it.

I note from the reviews out there that the longer-aged Glen Breton products seem to be better. Hopefully I will get a chance to try one of the higher-end products soon.

For some reviews of this whisky, the most positive ones I’ve seen come from Jason of In Search of Elegance and Ralfy. More typical are Davin of Whisky Advocate and the boys of Quebec Whisky. The least positive review is probably Serge of Whisky Fun (which is most in line with my thinking).

 

J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels

Here is something you don’t see every day: a limited small-batch release from a major Canadian producer, with a defined age statement, higher proof ABV, and a completely different production method than what is typically done in Canada. Thank you J.P. Wiser.

Last Barrels is the result of an experiment performed by former Wiser’s distiller Jim Stanski in early 2001 – and one that Wiser’s has now decided to bottle on its own as a limited run (instead of blending into a larger mainstream product).

The first novelty here is the use of a custom mashbill. Typically, most Canadian whisky is a blend where the individual grains are distilled separately and then later combined. Here, Wiser’s has used the traditional American method for bourbon production of blending the grains before mashing them. They are also using a very traditional bourbon-like mashbill of 80% corn, 11% rye and 9% barley (although this recipe supposedly relates to one J.P. Wiser experimented with himself).

The other innovation is the introduction of a sour mash process here. Sour mash is used in the production of nearly all bourbon, but is typically not used in Canada. Normally, it involves using left-over spent material from an older batch of mash to start controlled fermentation in the new batch (somewhat akin to what you do in making classic sourdough bread). Acids introduced by using the sour mash control the growth of bacteria, and create a proper pH balance for fermentation by the active live yeast.

Since Canada doesn’t use this method (and typically relies on a more sterilized process), Stanski’s innovated with a common sense solution – he let milk out in the lab to go sour, and then harvested the resulting Lactobacillus species. Although not usually done for whisky, it is common to use Lactobacillus as a “starter culture” for controlled fermentation in yogurt, cheese, beer, and sourdough bread, among other things.

The end result is a very boubon-like whisky (albeit one aged in ex-bourbon barrels, rather than new oak). Aged for 14 years and bottled at 45% ABV, this is certainly the most bourbon-like Canadian whisky I’ve tried so far.

Note that only 132 barrels were produced in the end, making this a very limited release. The LCBO bought out all 2000 cases, and has been releasing them across their network over the last couple of weeks.  While initially focusing exclusively on the Greater Toronto Area, I’m starting to see some bottles showing up in inventory further afield (with a little under 800 bottles currently showing through their app).

I picked up a bottle for $65 CAD at a nearby LBCO. I expect these will go fast, so you will want to hunt one down soon if you are intent on trying it. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Caramel upfront, with vanilla. Sweetened Granny Smith apple juice, with maybe a touch of cherry – there is definitely something tart in there. Oak char. Very slight solvent smell (rubbing alcohol?), but it doesn’t really have an alcohol burn. A bit light overall, but definitely bourbon-like (reminds me a bit of Basil Hayden’s, but with less rye).

Palate: Not as sweet as the nose, but you definitely have the vanilla and caramel notes coming through strongly. Fairly intense dry oakiness develops quickly, with significant woody bitterness. Sour patch candies. And tons of pepper – if you take too big of a sip, expect to experience that classic “pepper-up-the-nose” sensation. Feels a bit hot (likely due to the 45% ABV). But it is the peppery after-burn that really stands out for me. Unlike the soft nose, the palate reminds me of some of the classic mid-level bourbons with relatively flavourful bodies (e.g., Elijah Craig 12yo or Eagle Rare 10yo).

Finish: Lingers a fairly long while, with a mix of the slightly sweet fruit and bitter wood initially (more the latter). Fades while keeping some of the spicy pepper and vanilla right to the end. Thankfully, there are absolutely none of those artificially-sweet notes found on typical budget Canadian blends.

Wiser’s has definitely succeeded here in making a “Canadian bourbon”, if you ask me. In a blind tasting, I seriously doubt you would be able to identify this as a Canadian whisky – it tastes like a bourbon, with a fair amount of oaky flavours. It is lighter on the nose than most bourbons, though.

There are very few reviews online so far, but you can check out Davin at Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Redditor Devoz. Here’s a preliminary Meta-Critic comparison to some other similarly-priced Canadian whiskies.

Collingwood 21yo: 8.64 ± 0.43 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.79 ± 0.28 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Reserve: 8.53 ± 0.65 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.80 ± 0.39 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s 18yo: 9.07 ± 0.36 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.65 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$)
Lot 40: 8.92 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.68 ± 0.40 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.87 ± 0.31 on 4 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.05 ± 0.36 on 15 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.92 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)

Wisers.Last.BarrelsAgain, you can’t really say much from only 4 reviews. But it does seem like Last Barrels is trending around the level of the standard-bearer Lot 40. Here is how it compares to typical American bourbon whiskies in this price range.

Baker’s 7yo: 8.79 ± 0.31 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Blanton’s Single Barrel: 8.65 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Basil Hayden’s: 8.40 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Booker’s Small Batch: 8.92 ± 0.27 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Bulleit 10yo: 8.53 ± 0.41 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10yo: 8.56 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.73 ± 0.31 on 19 reviews ($$)
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.72 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$)
Four Roses Single Barrel: 8.72 ± 0.36 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel: 8.51 ± 0.31 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.87 ± 0.31 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve: 8.82 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Maker’s Mark 46: 8.84 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$)

Certainly a good performer for the price so far, consistent with other bourbons available at the LCBO.

Century Reserve 21 Year Old

Century Reserve is another Canadian whisky brand produced by Highwood Distillers in Alberta.

While the label calls this is a “Canadian Rye Whisky”, there is in fact no rye in here. Unusually for a Canadian whisky, this is actually a single grain whisky made from 100% corn. While it may shock some in other jurisdictions, the long use of high-proof rye for flavouring in Canadian whisky blends has allowed the term “rye whisky” to become synonymous with “Canadian whisky”. In essence, this is now a historic term to describe our whisky, and one protected in Canadian law for all whiskies that meet general Canadian whisky production standards (whether or not rye is present).

The source of this particular whisky is a bit mysterious. While Highwood distills their own whisky, they acknowledge that the corn whisky base of Century Reserve 21 yo is sourced from elsewhere (but don’t say from where). There is some speculation online that the distillate might be from Potters Distilleries in BC (who were acquired by Highwood in 2005), although this has been disputed. Whatever the source, I suppose it is possible that some of the Highwood-own make has now entered into the mix – but I don’t have any specific information one way or the other.

Whatever the source of the distillate, this whisky was barrelled, aged, and bottled by Highwood. They consider it to be an example of a premium, single grain, small batch whisky. This puts Century Reserve 21 yo in the same category as Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky from South Africa and Nikka Coffey Grain from Japan – although aged much longer here.

Century.Reserve.21.375No longer available in Ontario, I picked up a 375mL bottle of this 40% ABV whisky during recent travels in BC (for only ~$25 CAD, taxes-in). I was surprised to see a row of these half-sized bottles of Century Reserve 21 yo on the shelf at the BC Liquors store in Westbrook Village, as this item is not currently listed on their website (in any size). An image of the actual 375mL bottle is shown on the right (see the stock photo at the bottom of this page for what the 750mL bottle looks like).

The design of this half bottle is interesting. While the body of the bottle looks similar to full-size 750mL standard bottle, thee half-size bottles have a fancy decanter-style glass stopper with a thin ridge of cork around the internal rim. This makes it much more of a presentation item (i.e., looks like a fancy perfume bottle).

Century.Research.21.375.corkI was even more surprised when I turned the bottle over, looking for potential batch codes. I didn’t find any, but here is what is embossed onto the base of the glass bottle:

Century.Reserve.21.375.bottom

In case that isn’t coming through clearly, it says:

LIQUOR BOTTLE / JAPAN / THE NIKKA WHISKY / DIST. CO. LTD

I have never seen bottles of any Nikka product that look like this one (most are very plain, in comparison). And I can find no record online of a relationship between Nikka and Highwood. So I have no idea how Highwood managed to acquire Nikka bottles for this 375mL bottling of Century Reserve.  Frankly, this one is a mystery to me – if anyone knows more, please leave a comment below.

In terms of the what is actually inside the bottle, I will provide my tasting notes below. 😉 Note that I have previously reviewed two of their rye whisky blends, the Highwood Ninety 5 yo and 20 yo.

But first, here is what the Meta-Critic database reports for this whisky, relative to other aged Canadian whiskies, and some single-grain corn whiskies:

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.68 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 9.11 ± 0.35 on 5 reviews ($$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.76 ± 0.21 on 10 reviews ($$)
Century Reserve Lot 15/25: 8.36 ± 0.91 on 5 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.94 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$)
Wiser’s 18yo: 8.70 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$)

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky: 8.19 ± 0.53 on 7 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan 8yo Single Grain: 8.13 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.65 ± 0.50 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.53 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$)

And now, what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet light corn syrup, with a touch of maple. Notes of apple, cherries and citrus. a fair amount of vanilla, likely from the oak aging. As expected, no rye notes. Detectable solvent smell (mainly glue), with some dry rubbing alcohol thrown in. Not as bad as it sounds, and much better than typical entry level Canadian whiskies. Gives the overall impression of being rich while still being light (i.e., maybe more buttery than creamy).

Palate: Rich sweetness. Somewhat cereal as well – makes me think of creamed wheat. I can detect something similar in the best Canadian blends, like Crown Royal Monarch and Gibson’s 18 yo – I guess that was coming from the corn. In fact, buttered corn also comes to mind here. Otherwise, I get mixed berries, some citrus, and more definite vanilla now.  Silky mouthfeel, very rich and satisfying. I also get what tastes like mild rye spices (e.g., cinnamon and nutmeg), which must be coming from the oak aging. This is followed by a slight woody bitterness. Not as complex as most Canadian whiskies of this age, but with some interesting subtle notes.

Finish: The simple sweetness lingers the longest – and for medium length. Not particularly flavourful on the way out, but certainly not offensive. Slight traces of some rye-like spice, but faint and hard to pin down. All in all, it just sort of slowly fades away.

Century.Reserve.21The official tasting notes mention honey a lot, but I really don’t find that here – it’s a much lighter sweetness, combined with buttery and creamy overtones. Comparing it to the Highwood Ninety 20 yo, the Century Reserve 21 yo is less complex on the palate – but it also less objectionable on the nose.

The Century Reserve 21 reminds me of some other single grain corn whiskies, but with more rich and creamy flavours.  Like the consolidated Meta-Critic scores, I too would rate it as far superior to Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, and a slight notch up from Nikka Coffey Grain (which is more delicate and less creamy).

Two of the most positive reviews of this whisky come from Jason of In Search of Elegance and Chip the RumHowler. Davin of Whisky Advocate/Canadian Whisky is also quite positive, as are the guys from Quebec Whisky.

Hiram Walker Special Old Rye

Hiram Walker & Sons is the largest distillery operating in Canada today, as well as the longest continuously operating distillery in North America. Indeed, according to one source, it may now actually be the largest single distiller in North America.

Located in Windsor, Ontario, Hiram Walker & Sons is currently owned by Pernod, and operated by Corby. This massive distillery produces many of the well-known Corby brands, such as Canadian Club, Gibson’s, Lot 40, and Wiser’s. According to Davin de Kergommeaux’s Canadian Whisky Portable Expert, a significant proportion of their operation is sold as bulk whisky to US producers.

There is very little information about their namesake Special Old whisky available online. The only real info on the Corby website is a repeat of what is already shown on the bottle label – namely, that this is a Canadian rye whisky, and that Hiram Walker & Sons was established in 1858. Not exactly a lot to go on. According to Davin’s review at the Whisky Advocate, this whisky is only available in Canada.

Hiram Walker’s Special Old is an example of an ultra-low cost, entry-level Canadian whisky. You will consistently find this whisky sold at the lowest spirit “floor” price at the various Provincial liquor outlets. At the LCBO, that means you can pick up a standard 750mL bottle for ~$25 CAD. And like many of these entry-level whiskies, it is also available in a number of sizes (i.e., 200mL, 375mL, 750mL, 1140mL, 1750mL).  As you can tell from the image, packaging is very plain (and reminiscent of Alberta Premium, another entry-level whisky).

Here is how it compares to the other ultra-cheap, entry-level Canadian whiskies in my database:

Alberta Premium: 8.24 ± 0.60 on 10 reviews ($)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.33 ± 0.50 on 8 reviews ($)
Canadian Club: 7.28 ± 0.87 on 13 reviews ($)
Canadian Mist: 7.61 ± 0.69 on 11 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old: 8.23 ± 0.41 on 9 reviews ($)
Seagram’s VO: 7.73 ± 0.79 on 9 reviews ($)
Seagram’s Canadian 83: 7.28 ± 0.90 on 7 reviews ($)
Schenley Golden Wedding: 8.02 ± 0.58 on 8 reviews ($)
Wiser’s DeLuxe: 8.14 ± 0.49 on 8 reviews ($)

As you can see, the average Meta-Critic score puts it at the top of the pack, along with Alberta Premium and Alberta Springs.

Note that it is bottled at the standard 40% ABV. My review sample came from a 200mL bottle. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose:  Rye spices are the first thing you notice, especially cinnamon and cloves. It has a pleasant fruitiness, with red apples, currants, and a bit of citrus. Some oaky vanilla, with a little caramel. Actually reminds me a bit of flat cola – but it’s not as sweet overall. There is a slight peppery spiciness, tingling the nose. Impressively, there are no obvious solvent notes – a rare find in a budget Canadian whisky. A pleasant surprise so far.

Palate: Very rye forward initially (led by cinnamon), but the kick fades quickly, leaving soft, lingering flavours. There is an almost immediate sweet creaminess that coats the tongue with vanilla/toffee, and some light fruitiness in the background. Overall rich, it leaves a nice buttery sensation on the lips and gums (though still a bit watery). It is not uniformly sweet though, as citrus and sour apple eventually take more prominence.  I would consider this fairly well balanced – it maintains distinctive individual flavours, and doesn’t blend them all together.

Finish:  Medium length for a Canadian rye, with some bitterness creeping in – but more like bitter chocolate than the typical bitter grapefruit of some Canadian blends.  I get the flat cola note again, with just a hint of the softer rye spices (maybe nutmeg) persisting to the end. Somewhat tannic, leading to a drying effect over time. Leads to a very cleansing finish, which gently encourages you to take another sip.

Hiram.Walker.Special.OldUPDATE JANUARY 2016: Like many bargain Canadian ryes, lot variation can be considerable on these.  I recently picked up a second bottle, and find the nose is muted in comparison, especially for the rye spices – and there is a distinct glue-like solvent smell now. The palate is generally similar, but feels “hotter” (i.e., more raw ethanol taste). Finish is comparable, although perhaps a touch less bitter (which would actually be an improvement).

I didn’t have high hopes for this whisky – I initially bought it as an impulse buy in the LCBO checkout line, as one more budget Canadian blend to try. But this is my favourite entry-level Canadian rye so far – easily exceeding all the entry versions of Alberta Premium, Canadian Club, Seagram’s and Wiser’s at this basement price point.

I even prefer the first batch of Hiram Walker over most of the second tier ~$30 CAD whiskies, like Crown Royal and Gibson’s 12. Indeed, I would almost place that batch on par with Canadian Club 100% Rye and Forty Creek’s Copper Pot – that is, among the best of the second tier whiskies.  The second batch is less interesting on the nose, but still matches anything else at the LCBO floor price.

For more reviews of this whisky, I recommend you check out Davin at the Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Chip the RumHowler.  The highest score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Jim Murray (who seems to have a fondness for entry-level Canadian rye whiskies more generally). For less positive reviews, you can check out the guys at Quebec Whisky.  But for my money, Hiram Walker’s Special Old tops the list of entry-level budget Canadian whiskies.

 

Collingwood 21 Year Old Rye

It is a little odd to be reviewing a limited-run whisky that came out over 2 years ago, as you are unlikely to be able to find this whisky anymore.  But I recently had the opportunity to taste and review this whisky blind, which led to some interesting observations (to me, at any rate).

It sesms that few reviewers want to publicly reveal the results of blind taste testing (possibly because the results are likely not to put them in a good light). 😉  The experience of the Scotch Noob on this front is revealing. I personally have a lot respect for reviewers who are willing to put themselves out there with blind tasting notes.

The Collingwood 21yo was a bit of an unusual experiment for this Canadian distiller. Some 50 oak barrels of malted rye were set aside to age at the distillery. In 2013, these were married in a vat with toasted maplewood (just like regular Collingwood whisky), and released in time for Christmas 2013 (where it was ~$60 at the LCBO, I believe).

I received a blind sample of this whisky from Redditor Devoz. All I knew was that it was a Canadian whisky, bottled at 40% ABV. Here is what I found in the glass, as posted in my blind review on Reddit:

Blind Tasting Notes:

Nose:  Very sweet, with some corn syrup-like characteristics. Lighter fruits, like pear and green apple, and darker fruits like red plums and raisins.  There is a rich creaminess as well, with a slight chocolate note. Not getting much in terms of classic rye notes. No apparent solvent smells, which is a definite bonus. A nice nose, distinctive for a Canadian rye.

Palate:  Brown sugar sweetness up front, with the traditional rye baking spices following immediately after (cinnamon and nutmeg in particular). Not too spicy, but more than I expected from the nose. Very sweet and creamy – I can imagine people calling this “smooth”. Darker fruits show up more now (especially figs and raisins).  Slightly oaky. Sweet syrup returns at the end.

Finish:  Medium length. No bitterness, but not much going on here. Basically, somewhat bland and gentle, but in a good way (if that is possible).  Light sweetness and a touch of cinnamon persist to the end.

Interestingly, I mistakenly believed that this blind sample was a traditional Canadian rye blend, given that the rye spices weren’t very strong (i.e., I felt it didn’t have enough kick to be a straight rye). There was also a definite sweetness here that I found reminiscent of corn whisky, reinforcing the idea that this was a blended Canadian whisky. Quality-wise, I gave it a slightly below average score, as I didn’t find it particularly complex or interesting for its flavour characteristics.

Given the reveal, I suspect the extended barrel aging (and marrying in toasted Maplewood) introduced greater barrel sweetness, and softened the rye expression. This would be consistent with my “smooth” observation above, as well as the lack of any off notes (which can commonly occur on younger Canadian whiskies). I note that Davin of Canadian Whisky particularly emphasized the “smoothness” of this whisky in his review.

Here is how the Collingwood 21yo compares to other aged Canadian whiskies in the Meta-Critic database:

Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.97 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.78 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.66 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Danfield’s 21yo: 8.68 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$)
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.94 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$)
Wiser’s 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$)

The Collingwood 21yo is clearly at the lower end of the score range for aged Canadian whiskies.

Having re-sampled it after the reveal, I’m not inclined to change my score or overall flavour assessment. I believe this particular expression may be a bit over-aged, as it is soft in flavour overall, and rather gentle on the way out. The relatively low 40% ABV doesn’t help either – this is one Canadian whisky that likely would have benefited from being bottled at higher strength. All that said, it does have a very nice nose.

Personally, I still think its flavour characteristics and overall quality place it more in-line with the following budget-minded ($) whiskies:

Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve: 8.71 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.23 ± 0.41 on 9 reviews ($)
Wiser’s Small Batch: 8.57 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.54 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($)

Collingwood.21For additional reviews of this whisky, you could check out Jason of In Search of Elegance, and André and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. I certainly concur with them on how soft this rye is – although I don’t personally find it as strongly floral.  I am surprised to note that some reviewers find a lot of rye here, like Davin of Canadian Whisky and Michael of Diving for Pearls. But Beppi of the Globe and Mail experiences it as more Cognac-like, which I think is a better relative fit for this whisky.

While it was certainly an interesting experience to taste and review blind, I don’t think this whisky is necessarily worth seeking out, except for its uniqueness. There are higher quality aged expressions currently available at comparable or lower prices.

 

Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old

The Highwood Ninety 20yo is one of the higher-end expressions from the Alberta distiller Highwood – better known for the Centennial and Century Reserve lines of Canadian whiskies. And note that while this is marketed as a “rye whisky” (like all Canadian whisky), I believe the Ninety 20yo is actually a pure corn whisky.

I previously reviewed the more entry-level 5yo expression of the “Ninety” series (so named for the proof – both whiskies are bottled at 45% ABV). As you saw in that earlier review, while the 5yo had potential, I felt it really needed extra aging to tame its youthful characteristics.  Let’s see if the 20yo lives up to the promise.

Here is how the Highwood Ninety whiskies compare to other higher-end and/or aged Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.69 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary: 8.89 ± 0.52 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Danfield’s 21yo: 8.68 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak: 8.98 ± 0.33 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s Finest 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Century Reserve 21yo: 8.78 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$)
Highwood Ninety 20yo: 8.94 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$)
Highwood Ninety 5yo: 8.39 ± 0.56 on 5 reviews ($)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($$)
Wiser’s 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Wiser’s Legacy: 9.07 ± 0.24 on 13 reviews ($$)
Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.95 ± 0.4 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, for the price (~$50 CAD at the LCBO), the Highwood Ninety 20yo scores very well for a Canadian whisky.  I received two samples of this whisky from  Canadian Reddit users Devoz and wuhantang.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: Slightly sweet, but my main impression is that of a dry dustiness. There is grassiness and definite floral suggestion – very “earthy” overall.  Little fruit to speak of.  Unapologetic organic solvent smell, mainly acetone (with a touch of glue). You can sense the higher ABV. A classic grain-forward Alberta nose.

Palate:  Definite sweetness up front, with a strong toffee/butterscotch flavour. Gives me a creamy Caramilk bar sensation.  Dusty rye-like spices pop up quickly (cloves and nutmeg), and there is a spicy, peppery kick to it – with distinctive peppermint. The earthy notes from the nose continue (leather? tobacco?).  Maybe even a touch of anise now. This is a complex body, and the flavours come in waves. Definitely one you want to keep exploring. Very nice.

Finish:  Fairly long finish, well balanced overall (although the solvent aroma may linger). The light sweetness persists, along with a somewhat earthy/grassy feel.  Makes you want to go back and explore the palate further, though. A bit of dry heat builds up over repeated sips, due the higher ABV.

Highwood.Ninety.20I would think this one is fine as is (i.e., neat). A splash of water helps dampen the acetone on the nose slightly, and further accentuates the creamy butterscotch/caramel in the mouth. Also seems to soften the “earthiness” in the finish, without affecting the grassiness.

Looking over my tasting notes, I can see how this 20yo expression fits in well with the Ninety line. The evolution of the flavours from the 5yo makes sense, with the extended barrel aging. I particularly like the rich caramel/toffee notes now.

I’m not a fan of solventy smells myself, so I would rate this whisky just a touch lower than the Meta-Critic average.  I’m actually a bit surprised that the extended aging hasn’t attenuated this characteristic further. It was of course more pronounced on the Highwood Ninety 5yo.

For additional reviews, David de Kergommeaux of Canadian Whisky and Jason Hambrey of In Search of Elegance provide comparable ratings of this 20yo expression. The four lead reviewers at Quebec Whisky provide a nicely balanced set of views and commentaries.

Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel

Crown Royal is one of the most popular budget whiskies in Canada. I have recently posted reviews of a couple of the more highly-ranked expressions (Monarch and Northern Harvest Rye). Thanks to a swap with the user Devoz on Reddit, I have been able to sample a bottle of Hand Selected Barrel – a cask-specific release, currently only available in the United States.

That may sound odd, but Crown Royal is also very popular in parts of the U.S. – particularly Texas. As a result, Hand Selected Barrel and Northern Harvest Rye were originally launched as limited releases there in late 2014. They only gradually expanded across the U.S., with NHR showing up in Canada late last Fall. We are still waiting to see if Hand Selected Barrel will make its way up here. 😉

The initial Texas-only release of these whiskies makes sense, when you consider their composition. Northern Harvest Rye is close to being a straight rye (actually 90% rye in this case), and rye is enjoying a surging popularity in the U.S. Hand Selected Barrel is made with a very boubon-like high-rye mashbill of 64% corn, 31.5% rye, and 4.5% malted barley – and aged exclusively in new oak barrels (i.e., just like bourbon). It is bottled at a common “cask strength” of 51.5%, which will definitely appeal to bourbon enthusiasts.

Both Northern Harvest Rye and Hand Selected Barrel are examples of what are known in Canada as “flavouring whiskies.” Hand Selected Barrel in particular is drawn exclusively from whisky produced on Crown Royal’s massive “Coffee Rye” still – distilled to low ABV, and aged in virgin oak barrels (for seven years in this case). In Canada, this sort of low ABV high-rye whisky is often used to “flavour” blended whiskies that are composed predominantly of high ABV corn whisky.

In essence, Crown Royal really is hand-selecting individual barrels of this potent flavouring whisky for direct bottling. I understand that it is only available at U.S. stores that agree to purchase a whole barrel (i.e., each bottle is thus unique to that particular store and cask). As a result, you can expect a considerable amount of variability from one store to the next – but all are likely to give a fairly intense flavour profile. My sample came from a bottle purchased at a retail Texas store.

Here are how some of the major Crown Royal expressions rank in my database, in order of average Meta-Critic score (highest first):

Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary: 8.89 ± 0.52 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.81 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal XO: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.72 ± 0.42 on 11 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Reserve: 8.65 ± 0.75 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Black: 8.24 ± 0.53 on 15 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal: 7.60 ± 0.52 on 13 reviews ($)

And now, my detailed tasting notes on this sample of Hand Selected Barrel:

Nose: Very reminiscent of Northern Harvest Rye. I get a very sweet candied nose, with overwhelming apple and vanilla initially – and the same solvent undercurrent as the NHR (more, if anything). On repeated nosing, novel aromas open up like banana and strawberry, leading to a bubble-gum sensation. It also singes my nose hairs if I inhale too deeply or too long – which is a sign of that higher ABV. Pretty comparable overall to NHR, but with a bit more character and “oomph.”

Palate: Big, bold bourbon-es character, with tons of vanilla and butterscotch mixed with various fruits – mainly apple (again), strawberry and cherries. Definite citrus, but more candied orange than the typical Crown Royal grapefruit. The woody character comes through – certainly oak, but also a sweet, resinous conifer sap (Spruce?) that quickly turns to eucalyptus in my mouth. Has a thick and syrupy mouth feel overall, which is another sign of the high ABV – but still with a slightly tannic dryness that I like. I don’t get the classic Crown Royal bitterness here, which is a bonus in my view (although some may find this too sweet). The rye spices come up only toward the end, with a mild dry dusty bread taste. Certainly less overt rye than the NHR – more like a full-flavoured high-rye bourbon (which is basically what this is).

Finish: Oddly not very flavourful or long-lasting. This is where it falls a little flat for me – quite literally in fact, as it reminds me of slightly flat Tab (i.e., saccharin-sweetened diet cola). Some of the classic Crown Royal bitterness seems to be trying to poke through now, but is being suppressed by this artificial sweetness. Definitely much better than regular Crown Royal, but some may prefer the sharper bitterness of the NHR. Certainly doesn’t match the consistently smooth finish of the Monarch 75th Anniversary blend. By the end of the tasting, I could detect the dry heat of alcohol fumes rising from the back of my throat (i.e., another sign of the higher ABV ).

Crown.Royal.Hand.BarrelOverall, I would rate this sample of the Hand Selected Barrel as very close to the Northern Harvest Rye in overall quality. There are certainly differences though – NHR is more of a traditional Canadian Rye, without the thick and rich woodiness of the bourbon-like Hand Selected Barrel. This HSB has a more robust palate, but the NHR has a sharper and cleaner nose and finish. And I still consider my batch of Monarch to be a whole other league – an example of how Crown Royal can make a high quality and elegant blended whisky.

At the end of the day, if you can’t get your hands on a Hand Selected Barrel, the Northern Harvest Rye is probably the closest substitute in the Crown Royal family.

Keeping in mind the standard caveat that each bottle is going to be different, you can find some very positive reviews of this whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux at Canadian Whisky, Jason at Whisky Won, Josh of the The Whiskey Jug, and Chip the Rum Howler.

 

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