Tag Archives: Rye

J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old

This is my fourth and final review of the limited-release 2017 Northern Border Collection from Corby – and the oldest release of a Wiser’s whisky to date.

Sporting an impressive 35 year old age statement, this J.P. Wiser’s whisky is composed mainly of double-distilled corn whisky that has been distilled to a high ABV, and aged in reused ex-bourbon barrels. It also includes about 10% column- and pot-distilled rye whisky, aged in virgin oak barrels.

This mix is a fairly standard arrangement for a Canadian whisky – the high-proof corn whisky from reused barrels serves as a “base”, to which a smaller amount of “flavouring” whisky is added (i.e., the low-proof rye whisky aged in new barrels). But it is rare to see something aged this long, and I’m personally curious to see what effect this has on the various components.

Bottled at an impressive 50% ABV, this was released for $165 CAD at the LCBO last month. I’m still seeing a few bottles on shelves at some locations, so you should still have a chance to pick it up if you move quickly.

Here is how it compares to the rest of the NBC group, and other relevant whiskies, in my Meta-Critic Database.

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo; 9.00 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Club 40yo: 9.01 ± 0.48 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.78 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.63 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.78 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.98 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.79 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Union 52: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.09 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very sweet, with brown sugar, caramel and maple sugar (I rarely get maple notes, but very pronounced here). Vanilla. Caramel apple, slightly burnt. Orange citrus. A range of soft floral notes. Buttered popcorn. Almost bourbon like, but less woody – it does indeed seem liked it was aged primarily in well-used barrels. Faint acetone at first, but dissipates with time. Great nose overall – appropriately complex for the age, yet not dominated by the wood. Well done!

Palate: Sweet up front, with similar syrupy notes as the nose – definitely some complex sugars. Gently floral. Caramel corn. Caramel apple again. Then pronounced cinnamon and nutmeg hit, with cloves and some light wood spice. Finally, a bit of pepper and some tea notes round it out. Great mouth feel for 50% ABV, syrupy in texture. Some ethanol heat on way down, understandably. Again, this is surprisingly not very oaky for the age.

Finish: ‎Medium short. Caramel sweetness returns and dominates. Caramel corn. Otherwise not much going on here unfortunately, fairly simple on the way out. A bit thin on finish, frankly.

With water, it becomes more aromatic on the nose, with enhanced caramelized sugar notes. Water lightens mouth feel quickly, so I recommend you drink it neat or with only a few drops of water. It certainly doesn’t need the extra caramel flavour, in my view.

Great nose and mouthfeel, really impressed on those fronts. Very decent palate too, but with a shortish finish unfortunately. A bourbon drinker might like this, as it brings in a lot of the traditional bourbon sweetness – but without the heavy oak spice.

The extended aging seems to have really mellowed the palate, while keeping the moderately complex sugars and aromatic esters around. I find myself being drawn back to sample this one repeatedly – it is an easy-to-drink, likeable dram. Elegant is probably how I would best describe it, for the Canadian whisky class. This is my second favourite of the collection after Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (although Pike Creek 21yo is a close third).

Among reviewers, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Davin of Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate are huge fans – both give this one of their highest scores ever. Among reddit reviewers, TOModera really likes this one, giving it a high score (second highest rating for the group). It gets slightly above average scores from Devoz, muaddib99 and xile_. Sinjun86 and smoked_herring both give it an average score (although their second highest for the NBC group). Finally, Chip the Rum Howler gives it a very low score (due to a moldy note he perceives). So clearly a more variable view on this one – but most quite like it, giving it high marks for the class.

 

 

Gooderham & Worts 17 Year Old Little Trinity Three Grain

This member of the new Northern Border Collection by Corby (part of their Rare Releases for 2017) is released under the Gooderham & Worts line. A stabled name in the history of Toronto whisky distillation, the inaugural Gooderham & Worts whisky was a four-grain blend of wheat, rye, corn and malt whiskies. This new limited release is named Little Trinity (after the church William Gooderham built for his distillery workers), with a 17 year old age statement. They have dropped the malt component of the blend – this is now a three-grain mix.

According to Davin at Canadian Whisky, three types of wood were used to age the base corn spirit for this whisky: new virgin oak barrels, second-fill ex-bourbon barrels, and well-used barrels that had already seen several whiskies previously. The once-distilled rye whisky component was matured in ex-bourbon barrels, and the once-distilled wheat whisky was aged in virgin oak.

Bottled at 45% ABV, this is one of the most affordable members of the NBC, at $80 CAD at the LCBO (and you might still be able to find a bottle in some locations). Here is how it compares to other members of the NBC group, and comparable popular Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.29 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.78 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve: 8.70 ± 0.36 on 14 reviews ($)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.65 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.63 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.78 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.17 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.09 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 13 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.56 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet caramel with some honey. Apple juice with a candied/dried mixed fruit concoction – very fragrant. Buttered popcorn. Creamed wheat. Light rye spice, nutmeg mainly. Except for the wheat, this is a very classic “Canadian rye” presentation (with its strong corn notes) – but fruitier than typical. Off notes are reduced from the original G&W, and consist mainly of light varnish.‎ An improvement to be sure, quite a decent nose.

Palate: Lots of rye and corn syrup now. Caramel picks up too, and the buttery flavour. A surprisingly heavy oak spice flares up quickly, packing quite a kick. This woody influence was unexpected, and is surprisingly long-lasting in the mouth. Pepper and cinnamon add to the nutmeg. Mouth feel is a bit weak for 45%, waterier than expected.‎ Not quite as complex as the nose suggested, with heavy wood spice dominating.

Finish‎: Shortish. Once the wood spice dies down (fairly quickly after swallowing), light buttered popcorn remains as the dominant note. It really just sorts of vanishes though, surprisingly quickly. A bit tannic, but no real off notes.

This is is a decent Canadian rye-style whisky, with some wheat notes adding to typical corn-heavy base. Surprisingly heavy wood spice influence, especially mid-palate. A step up from standard Gooderham & Worts, which I found to be a bit young tasting. But the finish is still too quick, and the promised complexity on the nose fails to materialize. Frankly, this is my least favourite of the Northern Border Collection – I would give it only a slightly above average score for the class of Canadian whisky.

Among reviewers, Jason of In Search of Elegance is a big fan – and even though he ranks it third for the collection, he gives it a very high score. Davin of Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate gives this his lowest score for the group (but still above average). On Reddit, TOModera is the most positive (although he only gives it his third highest score for the group). This is followed by fairly average scores from muaddib99 and Sinjun86 (lowest of the group for both of them). smoked_herring also gave it his lowest score for the group, with a below average rating. So from these early reviews, it seems most agree with me that while this is a decent whisky, it is not one of the stars of the collection.

Pike Creek 21 Year Old Speyside Cask Finish

Now here is an oddity – a Canadian corn/rye whisky finished in casks that previously held Speyside Scotch single malt.

Pike Creek 21 Year Old Speyside Cask Finish is another member of the just-released Northern Border Collection from Corby – a collection of rare, one-of-a-kind, limited-release Canadian whiskies. Following up on the hugely popular Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 year old, I was most curious to see how this expression compared.

I was always a fan of the original Pike Creek 10 Year Old, finished in Port barrels. The port added a distinctive fruity finish to what was a fairly simple Canadian whisky. Around this time last year, Corby quietly switched to a rum-barrel finish for Pike Creek – but upped the strength slightly. I also speculated at the time they also increased the rye content (which has apparently been confirmed). I could see why some might prefer the new version, but I personally didn’t find the rum-finish very interesting or compelling.

For this release, they apparently had some casks that were aging well, and so they decided to allow them to continue to age longer than usual.  Interestingly, they choose a pretty unique set of casks for final finishing – re-fill ex-bourbon barrels that had been used to mature an unnamed Scotch single malt whisky (from Chivas Brothers). I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, for a Canadian whisky.

Currently available at the LCBO for $90 CAD. It is bottled at 45% ABV. I have bottle 0558 out of 3900 produced.

Here is how it compares in my whisky Meta-Critic Database to some other recent Canadian specialty releases, and similarly-aged Canadian whiskies:

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 40yo: 8.72 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.73 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.55 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Danfield’s 21yo: 8.51 ± 0.67 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.67 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.53 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 11 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.59 ± 0.77 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.98 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 13 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.57 ± 0.24 on 8 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.64 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$$$)

It is still early for reviews, but Lot 40 Cask Strength is the unquestioned darling the Northern Border Collection.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for this Pike Creek 21yo:

Nose: Ok, that’s a bit different. It is not a very strong nose, but there are unusual characteristics. There’s something vegetal that’s hard to describe (green tobacco leaf?). Whatever it is, it is more reminiscent of something you’d find in malted barley than a corn/rye whisky. That said, I do get corn (fresh corn and corn syrup). Green fruits, including green apple and under-ripe pears. Peanut shells. Woody, like old floor boards. It’s not as sweet and lightly fruity as the original Pike Creek 10 year old Port-finished (or even the newer Rum-finished version). But the extra age shows in that there are no real off notes, beyond a slight sourness (and something that could almost be called smokey).

Palate: Nicer in the mouth, with more flavours coming through now – especially the fruit (orchard fruits) and light caramels (plus brown sugar). Nutty, with just a touch of maltiness. A good balance, with some cinnamon and nutmeg building over time. The extra ABV is very much appreciated (regular Pike Creek was only 40%) – nice mouthfeel here, with a slightly buttery texture. Absolutely no off notes, this is very pleasant to sip. A touch tannic on the way out.

Finish: Medium (although longer than standard Pike Creek). Sticky residue on the lips and gums, with corn syrup and light honey. Pear. Faint tea note. Some cinnamon comes back at the very end.

This is a mild and gentle sipper. Nothing really stands out at any point of the experience – it is just sort of “there”. It’s a whisky that hints at different characters, but none of them ever really take shape. Ultimately, this is a very likeable chameleon – one that dances around a sharp definition, without ever being caught. It will not be hard to polish this bottle off.

There aren’t many reviews of this one, but it gets generally positive assessments from TOModera, muaddib99, and Sinjun86 on Reddit. Davin of Canadian Whisky is very positive. Like the original Pike Creek, I don’t see this whisky garnering a lot of attention from enthusiasts – which means you might actually have a chance to pick a bottle up before they disappear!

Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old

With the surging popularity of whisky these days, it has been rewarding to see Corby come out with some innovative Canadian products (especially through their Wiser’s brand).  Many of these have been limited releases (often geographically restricted within Canada), but widely appreciated none-the-less by the local enthusiast communities.

Here I have one of the new bottlings from their new Rare Releases series for 2017 – specifically, Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 year old. This is part of what is known as (collectively) the Northern Border Collection, and I’ll be reviewing the other members of this collection shortly.

Lot 40 has always been one of the darlings of the Corby whisky catalog. Not well known outside of Canada, it is invariably the first thing every Canadian whisky nerd points to when asked for a recommendation of a Canadian rye. It is a very reasonably priced and widely available Canadian 100% rye whisky – please see my earlier review above for more info.

Recently, in anticipation of this Northern Border Collection release, a number of Canadian reviewers received access to a small number of single cask samplings of Lot 40.  But this review is of the official bottling now hitting retail shelves in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. It is bottled at 55.0% ABV, and is sold for $70 at the LCBO.

As with regular Lot 40, with is a 100% rye whisky – only now with an explicit age statement and higher cask strength. My bottle is numbered 3754 for this “First Edition” official release (out of 4968).

Here is how it compares to premium Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic database. Note that I have separated out reviews for the single cask Lot 40 in its own category.

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo: 9.01 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel: 8.55 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.73 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.83 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend: 8.39 ± 0.69 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.70 ± 0.55 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.79 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 11 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.97 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.59 ± 0.44 on 15 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.55 ± 1.00 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.17 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye: 10yo 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.82 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

And let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: As expected, Lot 40 on steroids! Heavy doses of rich baking spices – including cloves and cinnamon – plus cardamon, anise and dill. Main fruits are pears and plums (dark-skinned plums, specifically), with some citrus (oranges). Honey, with a touch of caramel. I also get a definite black tea note now. The extra strength can be a bit overwhelming, and drowns out some of the more delicate floral notes of regular Lot 40. There’s also something here that reminds me a bit of the original Pike Creek – likely the sharper rye notes.

Palate:  Thick and syrupy now, this is one you want to hold in your mouth. Cola and milk chocolate add to the honey and caramel from the nose, and cherries join the oranges. Heavy rye spices (cloves, cinnamon), with some actual dusty rye on the way out. A touch of bitterness (not sure if its from the rye or the wood, but I suspect the former). Dried herbs and tobacco, plus some sort of tannic black tea. And very peppery.  A much stronger presence that regular strength Lot 40.

Finish: Longer lasting than regular Lot 40. Spicy cloves and cinnamon (plus pepper) linger the longest, turning a bit candied over time (cinnamon red hots/swedish fish). Some astringency builds (that black tea note in particular). Dark chocolate-like bitterness also creeps in, but never overwhelms. Certainly a more substantial finish than other Canadian ryes, which tend to be a bit anemic. A nice, long-lasting glow.

With water, the nose is tamed a bit, and a breakfast fruit jam on toast note emerges. The caramel sweetness increases in the mouth, as do the more candied rye spices. Mouthfeel lightens quickly, so go easy on it. Seems to help with the bitterness on the finish. Personally, I find this one quite easy to drink to neat – but a bit of water will enhance the sweetness factor.

No doubt about it, this is an enthusiasts’ rye whisky. Much stronger rye presence than anything I can think of, including Masterson’s Straight Rye (which is probably its closest comparable). I don’t think it’s automatic that you will like this if you are a Lot 40 fan – there is an elegant subtlety to regular Lot 40 that is a bit lost here.  But for fans of cask-strength whiskies, this is really a no-brainer – I’m glad to see Corby roll this out (although sadly as only a limited release). There is talk of making some variant of this an annual release, though.

Although this is just now hitting shelves at the LCBO (and won’t last long!), there are a few reviews of the official bottling. See Davin of Canadian Whisky, Mark of Whsky Buzz, and Neversafeforlife, TOModera, Sinjun86 and muaddib99 on Reddit for very positive ones. For the single cask Lot 40 samples Corby circulated prior to release to some reviewers, you will find very positive reviews of one batch (bottled at 55.8%) by Devoz, Lasidar, Ethanized, Boyd86, and kinohead of Reddit, and Jason of In Search of Elegance. Andre of Quebec Whisky also reviewed a single cask sample (not sure if it was the same one as the others above). All agree, this is a top pick Canadian rye whisky.

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.

Whistlepig 10 Year Old Rye

Whistlepig is a relatively new entrant on the American whisky scene – and one that is gaining in popularity.

The 100% rye whisky that makes up the core Whistlepig 10 Year Old is barreled and matured initially by Alberta Distillers in Canada, before being shipped to Vermont for re-barreling and additional aging in Whistlepig’s hands. This is the main difference from Masterson’s, which I believe just bottles the Alberta whisky straight from the Canadian barrels. Whistlepig 10 yo was created by Dave Pickerell, the former Master Distiller of Maker’s Mark.

This is an unmalted rye, as Alberta Distillers has developed its own proprietary enzymes for converting rye starch into sugar. In order to meet American standards for a straight rye, the source Canadian whisky for Whistlepig must have been distilled to an alcohol content of 80% or less (thus keeping a higher proportion of congeners than most Canadian whiskies, which can be distilled higher). It must also have entered into virgin charred oak barrels for aging (which is relatively less common here). The end result is a more flavourful experience than most Canadian rye whiskies. Note these aspects are equally true for the Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Rye, which I recently reviewed.

Bottled at an impressive 50% ABV, the Whistlepig 10 yo rye is sold at an eye-popping price of $147 CAD at the LCBO. That makes it considerably more expensive than any of the other premium fully-Canadian rye whiskies.

Here is how the entry-level Whistlepigs compare to other Alberta Distillers products in my Meta-Critic database:

Alberta Premium: 8.24 ± 0.56 on 11 reviews ($)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.61 ± 0.37 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye: 8.34 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Barley 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.83 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig The Boss Hog: 8.81 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)

The Whistlepig products do about as well as the Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo, as you might expect. Note however that even the entry-level budget-priced Alberta ryes do fairly well for their price.

Let’s see how the other higher-end Canadian ryes compare:

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 9.00 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel: 8.61 ± 0.42 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.82 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary: 8.75 ± 0.48 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Reserve: 8.53 ± 0.65 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.79 ± 0.39 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18yo: 9.01 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.85 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.35 on 20 reviews ($$)

On the whole, these are fairly similar average scores to the Whistlepig 10 yo. So the rather large price premium for Whistlepig in Canada (i.e., it costs ~2-3X as much as any of the above) is a little hard to swallow, so to speak. 😉

Of course, cost is only one aspect to consider – how does it taste?  Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very sweet nose, with red berries, cola and touch of cream. Orange citrus. Caramel and vanilla. Rye spices, mainly sweet cinnamon and tangy cloves. Tobacco. There is definitely a similarity to Masterson’s Straight Rye (which is also sweet and fruity) – but this Whistlepig seems a bit less complex (and less woody). Faint hint of solvent, but its subtle. More floral with water (also some dill appears).

Palate: Caramel and butterscotch up front, and not as fruity in the mouth. Woody. Hay and tobacco, but again not quite as earthy as I would have expected. Rye spices come next, with pepper added to the mix. Mouthfeel is very thick and syrupy, I might almost say velvety. Powerful dram, but needs a bit of water. Much less syrupy with water, but water doesn’t add anything new – so go easy if you want to try it. Lingering spices (allspice?).

Finish: Medium length. Sweet cherry cough syrup, hiding a touch of bitterness. That oaky bitterness builds over time. Tobacco lingers too. Water helps here, but the bitterness still persists. I recommend you add a few drops.

While Whistlepig 10 Year Old is a decent rye whisky, there is nothing that really makes it stand out for me. I personally find Masterson’s 10 yo Straight Rye superior on each of the sensory axes above, with richer flavours across the board. The palate and finish of Whistlepig also has more woody bitterness than I would like.

While I know a couple of the Reddit reviewers prefer Whistlepig over Masterson’s (e.g. Neversafeforlife), this is not the case for most reviewers in my database who have tried both. In particular, Davin of Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Jim Murray all strongly favour Masterson’s 10 yo rye – and give Whistlepig average or just-below-average scores (as I would). S.D. of Whiskey Reviewer is a big fan of both ryes, and likes them equally (see here and here), and the guys at Quebec Whisky are also fairly similar in their scores – with Andre being one of the most positive. The most negative review I’ve seen for Whistlepig comes from Serge of Whisky Fun.

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.

Millstone 100 Rye

Millstone is the whisky brand produced by Dutch distiller Zuidam. A family-run business, they make a number of distilled products – including both rye and single malt whiskies.

The product name here is a bit of cute play on their fixation with the number 100 – it is made with 100% rye grain, in 100% small copper pot stills, matured for 100 months (8 years, 4 months) in 100% new American oak barrels and bottled at 100 Proof (50% ABV).  I understand that the rye grain is 49% malted, 51% unmalted.

Here is how it compares to various popular American and Canadian rye whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

Bulleit Rye: 8.29 ± 0.64 on 16 reviews ($$)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.33 ± 0.43 on 14 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.58 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$)
High West Double Rye: 8.70 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$)
High West Rendezvous Rye: 8.91 ± 0.31 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Knob Creek Small Batch Straight Rye: 8.54 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.88 ± 0.41 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye: 8.70 ± 0.45 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Millstone 100 Rye: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Pikesville Straight Rye: 8.73 ± 0.48 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof: 8.58 ± 0.23 on 15 reviews ($$)
Sazerac Straight Rye: 8.59 ± 0.46 on 13 reviews ($$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.85 ± 0.43 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Willett Family Estate Rye (all ages): 8.70 ± 0.29 on 12 reviews ($$$$)

That is a good score for a rye whisky. There aren’t a lot of reviews for the other various Millstone single malts in my database, but here are how a couple compare:

Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask: 8.95 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.95 ± 0.67 on 4 reviews ($$$$)

As a fan of Canadian and American ryes, I was curious to see how this rye import from the Netherlands would compare.  My sample comes from a swap with TOModera on Reddit. Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Dark amber

Nose: Sweet syrupy rye, with bold in-your-face spicy notes (cinnamon and cloves in particular). Pepper and ginger too. Caramel and toffee, with honey and a bit of vanilla (all suggesting charred virgin American oak aging). Limited fruits – a bit of apple and some cherry (very American-like). Fudge and dark chocolate, with a bit of anise. May be some subtle rye notes peeking through, but buried under that virgin oak avalanche. It’s very strong, with unusually heavy ethanol nose hair singe. A helluva nose! Water dulls a little of the ethanol, but brings up acetone instead.

Palate: Strong up-front wallop of ethanol heat – and that spicy rye flavour (cinnamon and pepper in particular, same as the nose).  Thick honey and caramel dominate the mid-palate, with the same fruits as the nose. Something mildly vegetal, plus some artificial sweetener notes on the way out. Syrupy mouthfeel, but with more tongue tingle than I would like. Seems a bit young for a 8+ year old whisky. Water only helps a little with the ethanol burn (and unfortunately reduces the syrupy texture far more). It doesn’t bring up anything new, so I would recommend against water here (or use it very sparingly).

Finish: Moderately long. Cinnamon redhots dominate initially, but slowly fade and the other rye spices become more prominent (cloves, nutmeg). A bit of earthy tar builds over time, adding to the anise (not as bad as it sounds, I kind of like the funkiness actually). Some astringency on the finish (but no real bitterness). Water has no real effect here.

This is a heavy-hitting rye. I’m surprised that water does so little to tame the burn. It really is a monster that steamrolls ahead, regardless of dilution. It has a bit of funk that some may find off-putting, but is actually kind of interesting. I was rather hoping to see more fruit develop, though.

I suspect it would likely appeal to those who favour bold, oak-dominated bourbons and ryes. This is kind of what I imagine an Elijah Craig small batch rye would taste like, if such a thing existed. It is certainly a lot more American rye-like than Canadian. Personally, I prefer the softer and more subtle floral notes of something like Lot 40 here in Canada.

Dominic of Whisky Advocate really loves this one, as do some of the reviewers on Reddit (i.e., this review and this one). More moderate scores come from Jim Murray, Nathan the Scotch Noob, Serge of Whisky Fun, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and TOModera on Reddit. There are no particularly negative scores among my panel of reviewers, although I would personally score this whisky a little lower than the Meta-Critic average.

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.

 

 

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