Tag Archives: Rye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

J.P. Wiser’s Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what I find in the glass:

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

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

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

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

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

Pike Creek 10 Year Old Rum Finish

As mentioned in my previous review, Pike Creek 10 year old is part of a popular series of higher-end whiskies from Corby distillers. Along with Lot 40 and Gooderham & Worts, they are meant to hearken back to earlier styles of Canadian whisky production.

Continuously available since late 2012, Pike Creek is an example of a rye whisky that has been finished in a fortified wine barrel (port pipes, in this case). I see Pike Creek as a member of the new style of wine-finished (or flavoured) Canadian whiskies, including the popular Alberta Premium Dark Horse, 66 Gilead Crimson Rye and the recently released Gretzky Red Cask.

However, starting with batches released in September 2016, Corby has apparently switched to finishing Pike Creek in “rum barrels” instead of “vintage port barrels” (see the label image above, and in my previous review). Otherwise, the packaging is unchanged.

Personally, I’m a little surprised that Corby has made this drastic a change without drawing more attention to it. As I explain on my Source of Whisky Flavour page, the type of barrel used for aging has a significant effect on the final flavour of the whisky.

From the discussion thread I started on Reddit, it seems that Corby has made this shift due to some difficulty in getting European labeling approval for this whisky in its previous port-finished form.  The switch to rum barrels thus appears to be a permanent substitution.

Personally, I find a rum finish can be interesting in an aged whisky (e.g., the Glenfiddich 21 yo Gran Reserva). More commonly though, you see it in younger whiskies where it is used to provide some additional sweetness (e.g., Teeling Small Batch).

This rum-finished version of Pike Creek is too new to have any other dedicated reviews yet, but let’s see how the old port-finished Pike Creek compared in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

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 ($$)
Stalk & Barrel 100% Rye: 8.66 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$$)

As I mentioned in my earlier review, I think the Meta-Critic score is a little low for the classic port-finished Pike Creek.  I would personally score it more in the middle of the range above, say around ~8.6.

I bought my bottle at the initial sale price of $34.95 CAD at the LCBO. Note that the LCBO has created a new entry for this rum-finished version of Pike Creek. And although the title, description and price hasn’t changed, it does show the correct new bottle label – and the increase to 42% ABV.

Let’s see what I find in the glass, compared to the original port-finished Pike Creek.

Colour: Identical to the earlier port-finished version, further indicating caramel colorant is added.

Nose: Vaguely similar to the old Pike Creek, but lighter and, well, duller. There is still a clear rye presence, but it is not as fruity as before – Just some light plums, apricots and pears now. Gone are the classic darker/red fruits of the port (i.e., the raisins and prunes), although I am detecting a whiff of cola here. The brown sugar notes are still there, but a bit lighter now, and supplemented with honey and an almost artificial sweetness. Some dry oak still (contributing to that consistent Pike Creek-ness). And again, no real off notes, but a fair amount of alcohol singe. Makes me think of a slightly aged Hiram Walker Special Old – pleasant enough, but not particularly complex.

Palate: Still not much in the way of fruit, although citrus is showing up now (just as I found on the old Pike Cree, and some other Hiram Walker whiskies). Sweetened apple juice now, which is novel (and not particularly welcomed, IMO). Vanilla and caramel throughout. Good rye kick initially, with some extra pepper supplementing the lighter rye spices (nutmeg in particular), with a touch of cardamon.  If anything, the initial intensity of the rye seems to have increased from before (which I like) – unfortunately, it still fades rather quickly. Light and watery mouthfeel, as before. A touch of bitterness comes in at the end.

Finish: As disappointingly quick as the previous port-finished version. Nutmeg added to apple juice is the predominant effect. There is definite bitterness on this one that I wasn’t really getting on the previous port-finished batch. Like most rum-finished whiskies I’ve tried, it just seems to quickly fade away.

pike-creek-rumThis new rum-finished Pike Creek seems like a good quality entry-level Canadian light rye – but sweeter than typical. In comparison to the old Pike Creek, I can’t help but feel it is a bit lacking here (those darker winey fruits in particular are gone). On the plus side, I don’t know if it is the 42% ABV or if they added more rye to compensate, but it does have a slightly elevated kick (at least initially – still fades quickly).

While the rum barrels are accentuating the sweetness factor, they really aren’t matching the fruitiness of the old vintage port barrels. I don’t know if this is enough to make people run out and bunker the old Pike Creek before it is gone. But I suspect a regular Pike Creek drinker would notice the less fruity and sweeter taste here.

Taken together, I would personally have to score this rum-finished Pike Creek a couple of points lower than the original port-finished one (i.e., ~8.4). This would put it just up from the overall average Canadian whisky score in my Meta-Critic Database, which I think is fair.

Please see my old port-finished Pike Creek review for links to external reviews. I will update this review once reviews of this new rum-finished version come out.

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.

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.

 

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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