Pike Creek 21 Year Old Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish (2019)

I find Pike Creek to be one of the more under-appreciated (and under-valued) whiskies in the Corby/Hiram Walker stable of whiskies. In its standard 10 year old form, it is a pleasant, sweet, easy sipper – nothing too exciting, but popular with everyone I’ve ever shared it with (although some reviewers are fairly negative on it). See my earlier reviews of the original Port barrel-aged Pike’s Creek 10 year old, and newer rum barrel-finished version.

The initial 21 year old release as part of the Northern Border Collection in 2017 featured additional aging in Speyside scotch whisky barrels. I never picked up the 2018 release that was aged in Hungarian oak (as that kind of finishing isn’t something I typically enjoy). But last year, they released a version that used Oloroso sherry casks for aging – which is much more likely to be up my alley. I typically enjoy single malt scotch whiskies aged in sherry casks (Oloroso in particular – with their classic nutty, dried dark fruits, rancio and tannic oak notes). Sherry oak casks are not something you come across too often in Canadian whisky, so this was certainly worth a gamble.

Like most Pike Creek’s, this is made predominantly from the light base, column-distilled corn whisky that underpins most Canadian whisky, aged for 21 years. Added to this base is a touch of column-distilled rye whisky, for extra peppery spice. The blend was then finished (or re-gauged, in Canadian whisky parlance) in Oloroso sherry casks for an undisclosed period of time.

Bottled at 45% ABV. This edition retails for $90 CAD at the LCBO in Ontario. I picked up my bottled on sale in Alberta for a bit less late last Fall. Only 4481 bottles were produced, but it can still be found in some jurisdictions (including Ontario).

Of note, this whisky won Whisky of the Year at the Canadian Whisky Awards in early 2020. This competition involves blind taste testing by an experienced panel of Canadian whisky reviewers, and is always worth a close look every year. You can learn more about these awards in my Canadian Whisky Trends for 2020 article.

Here is how this Pike Creek 21yo compares to other Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky database:

Gooderham & Worts 19yo 49 Wellington (2019): 8.77 ± 0.30 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Eleven Souls Four Grain (2018): 8.89 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 23yo Cask Strength Blend (2019): 9.08 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo (2018): 9.15 ± 0.20 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.17 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.74 ± 0.38 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.25 ± 0.53 on 17 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.47 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 21yo Double Barrel European Oak Cask (2018): 8.58 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Double Barrel Speyside Cask Finish (2017): 8.66 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks (2019): 8.84 ± 0.43 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

This is certainly the highest-scoring Pike Creek expression, and second highest scoring of the 2019 Northern Border Collection.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet and buttery, almost rum-like in a way. Creamy, with vanilla, chocolate and toffee notes. Orange rind and apple juice. Some dark fruits, but fairly restrained. Wine gums. Slightly nutty. No off notes. It is a good nose to linger on, seems mature for a Canadian whisky. And the sherry is quite mild and not at all over-powering, like they struck a good balance.

Palate: Sweet, with a lot more caramel than I expected from the nose. Milk chocolate too (Rolo candies come to mind). Orange zest. Sour wine gums now. Cinnamon. The nuttiness comes across more like earthiness in the mouth. The caramel sweetness and cinnamon heat (plus some black pepper) makes it seem like there was some active wood in the mix (i.e., virgin oak). I suspect this “woodiness” must be coming from the French oak Sherry casks, as I don’t see any published reports of virgin oak aging here. Definitely more woody than typical for a Pike Creek, or Canadian whisky in general – you would be excused for thinking this was actually a light bourbon.

Finish: Longish. Mainly caramel and red wine dregs initially (somewhat tannic). Oakiness remains throughout, with a nice light cinnamon note and touch of pepper. It never gets too bitter, and some lingering sherry sweetness persists to the end.

I can see why this won the CWA’s Whisky of the Year – it is very distinctive for the Canadian class (and one that is indeed very much in my wheelhouse). Sherry barrels are relatively rare in Canadian whisky, and the drier Oloroso seems to have paired really well with the sweet light corn and rye whiskies used here. Indeed, the overall sweetness made me think of PX or Moscatel sherry initially – but the faint earthy/nutty notes are consistent with Oloroso.

It is a shame we don’t see more sherry-finished Canadian whisky, as this is one of the best examples that I have had of a fortified wine-matured Canadian whisky. With its woody and sweet nature, it seems less like a Canadian whisky and more like a sherry-finished light bourbon – or a sherry-finished scotch that had some virgin oak aging.

It never occurred to me to trying adding water to this – it drinks beautifully just as it is. This is one of better Northern Border Collection whiskies I’ve had, outside of the cask-strength Lot 40s – and my new favourite for the 2019 collection so far.

In addition to winning whisky of the year at the Canadian Whisky Awards, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Mark of Whisky Buzz gave this expression top scores (which match my own assessment). Moderately positive scores came from Davin of Whisky Advocate, Martin of Quebec Whisky and the Toronto Whisky Society. The lowest scores I’ve seen come from Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, and Tomodera.

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