Tag Archives: Masterson’s

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 review ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 review ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Barley 10yo: 8.58 ± 0.61 on 7 review ($$$$)

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).