Category Archives: Whisky Reviews

Matsui Mizunara Cask

This is a new Japanese whisky that I debated purchasing. Not because of the likely intrinsic quality of the whisky itself, but because of the history of the producer.

As I’ve discussed in some of my travelogues (most recently my Whisky in Japan – a 2014-2019 Perspective), the rising popularity of Japanese whisky has led to a proliferation of “faux” or fake Japanese whisky. They can certainly look a lot like the bottles from established whisky-makers Yamazaki and Nikka – and the brand names may indeed be recognizable as established spirit producers in Japan – but the bottles don’t actually contain any Japanese whisky.

The problem is loose labeling laws that allow Japanese distilleries to import whisky from other countries and re-package it for sale in Japan. If you are looking for a way to separate out true Japanese whisky from the fakes, here’s a useful infographic chart and table courtesy of nomunication.jp.

As an aside, there is an understandable historical basis for these labeling laws, as the raw materials for whisky production (e.g. barley, oak casks) are often imported from Scotland. In some cases, established whisky makers also import distillate from Scottish distilleries to blend into their own production (e.g., Nikka owns Ben Nevis distillery, in part for this reason). But the bottling of pure out-sourced whisky for domestic sale in Japan – in highly misleading age-stated packaging, and at steep prices – seems designed to purposefully gouge ill-informed consumers (and tourists on local shopping sprees).

High on the list of worst offenders is Matsui Shuzo, owner of the Kurayoshi “whisky” brand. Kurayoshi is a well-established schochu distiller in Tottori, Japan (in operation since 1910). The problem is that for many years now, they have been selling aged-stated single malts in Japan, despite only starting to distill whisky in 2017. This has given “Kurayoshi single malts” a well-deserved black-eye among Japanese whisky enthusiasts.

Of course, we have now reached the point where many of the relatively new entrants to whisky-making in Japan have barrel-aged their own distilled spirit sufficiently long enough to sell it (domestically and internationally) as true Japanese whisky. In this case, Matsui Shuzo has begun selling blended Japanese and Scottish malt whiskies under the Tottori label, and pure Japanese malt whisky under the Matsui label. Given the negative association with Kurayoshi “malt whisky”, I can understand this labeling change. Of note, the malt is apparently still largely sourced from Scotland – but that is true for many Japanese whiskies.

And thus my personal dilemma; I am loathe to support someone who has engaged in such misleading business practices. Personally, I find the whole Kurayoshi age-stated single malt whisky scam an affront to both the Japanese character and the quality of their whisky. But is also true that many of the world’s established whisky makers started out with less than squeaky-clean reputations (i.e., the history of bootleggers, moonshiners and tax-dodgers in North America and Europe, and the early producers in Japan). At the end the of the day, I thought I would give this bottling a chance, to see how Matsui’s true distilled-in-Japan product fares.

One feature common among new whisky-makers the world over is experimentation with different casks types, to try and introduce additional character into their youthful spirits. Matsui is following a standard path with this bottling by the use of Japanese Mizunara oak casks (Quercus mongolica). I previously reviewed Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve, which attempted a similar approach to distinctive aging/finishing.

I recently bought my bottle of Matsui Single Malt Mizunara Cask through the LCBO in Ontario for $130 CAD. It is bottled at 48% ABV, and the label states no artificial coloring is added, and it is un-chillfiltered. It also states distilled in Japan (finally!).

As an aside, I note the bottle design is very similar to the higher-end Suntory bottles, something of a hybrid between the simple-but-elegant Yamazaki/Hakushu bottles and the fancy decanter-style Hibiki bottles (although with a screw cap here – see the pic below). The labels and box are very distinctive, with classic Japanese iconography throughout. They certainly have a classy look to them.

Here is how the whisky compares to some other entry-level Japanese single malts in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database – and other Mizunara cask finished whiskies:

Bowmore Mizunara Cask Finish: 8.84 ± 0.45 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Chivas Regal Mizunara: 8.09 ± 0.58 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Hibiki Harmony: 8.36 ± 0.48 on 23 reviews ($$$$)
Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select: 8.25 ± 0.67 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve: 8.33 ± 0.53 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Kanosuke New Born 2018 8mo: 8.97 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Matsui Mizunara Cask: 8.86 ± 0.20 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Matsui Sakura Cask: 8.55 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Miyagikyo NAS: 8.47 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Taketsuru NAS: 8.40 ± 0.47 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Yoichi NAS: 8.57 ± 0.30 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Yamazaki Mizunara: 8.95 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Yamazaki NAS: 8.45 ± 0.23 on 6 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Pale straw. Remarkably light, reminds me of Timorous Beastie. The promotional picture above is more accurate in colour balance than my cell phone pic below.

Nose: Very candied fruit nose, with pear, kiwi, green apple, honeydew melons and banana – also lychee. Reminds me of the Meiji gummy versions of most of the above flavours. Honey and a bit of vanilla. Almonds. Faintly fusil (gunpowder). The Mizunara is also coming through as a light wood spice and a very faint funky, sour smell (like old sweatsocks or baby vomit). Believe it or not, it works well with the candied spice, seems elegant. I am quite pleasantly surprised.

Palate: A quick hit of caramelized apples and banana candies to start, followed by starfruit and grapefruit bitterness. Tons of pepper (wow, it is a hot one!). It is very sharp in the mouth, definitely feeling the burn from the extra ABV. Sandalwood and oriental incense notes. Dry paper on the swallow. Not particularly woody, but you can feel the subtle Mizunara wood spice notes – and the overwhelming pepper.

Finish: Fairly quick on the way out, with a simple lingering sweetness. Not cloying, reminiscent of caramelized apple and pear mixed with just a touch of grapefruit citrus (but definitely more sweet than bitter). Not overly woody, which helps keep the bitterness in check. While not complex, most people should find it quite pleasant.

On the nose, there is something here reminiscent of the older-style, lightly-peated Highland malt whiskies, like Ben Nevis 10yo or the older peated Glen Gariochs (e.g., 1995 vintage). It really is a lovely nose, but it then starts to show its youthful age by the burn on the palate and relatively quick finish. It reminds me a bit of Hakushu NAS in the mouth, although there is a lot more pepper here. Finish is fairly simple, but elegant and pleasant enough.

The Mizunara effect is also rather understated (which I personally like), except for the strong peppery spice. I’ve never been a big fan of strong Mizunara wood notes (e.g., Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve), so this level is just about right for me. It feels like a good balance. They are definitely on the right track, it just needs more maturity and character in the mouth. In comparison, the Kanosuke New Born had remarkable character at a younger age, although with some similar heat issues.

I would give this Matsui Mizunara Cask a slightly above average score, ~8.5-8.6. It has less character in the mouth than I would like, but it does have a refined elegance (and a great nose). Good balance of Mizunara spice.

Among reviewers, Jim Murray was extremely positive, followed by Jonny of Whisky Advocate. Richard of nomunication.jp was more moderately positive (and more consistent with my own scoring and views).

Helios Whisky Reki Pure Malt

Helios is not exactly a familiar name in Japanese whisky making. Indeed, they were originally known as a rum distiller (yes, you read that correctly). Based in Okinawa, this region remained under the administrative control of the US into the 1960s, when Helios was founded. I guess rum production for US pacific regions was all the rage in the early days of this distillery.

Beyond the initial rum staple, Helios eventually branched out into various liqueurs, awamori (a distinctive Okinawa beverage made from distilled rice), and the standard Japanese distilled spirits shochu and umeshu. The distillery prides itself on using local materials for its production.

Helios started making whisky during the early phase of rising Japanese domestic whisky popularity in the 1980s. Apparently that popularity didn’t last for Helios, as they seemed to have gotten out of the whisky making game by early 2000s. Indeed, the last age-stated whisky I’ve seen from Helios (under the Reki label) was a 15 year old expression released in 2016.

In recent years, Helios has been cashing in on the modern whisky boom by sourcing Scottish whisky to sell under their Kura whisky brand. See my recent Japan travelogue for an introduction into so-called “faux” or fake Japanese whisky. I believe they have also attempted to brand some of their barrel-aged, rice-distilled awamori and schochu products as whisky (see another example in my Ohishi Sherry Cask review).

All that said, the Reki brand name has been retained by Helios for actual Japanese whisky, as far as I know. See for example this helpful infographic and searchable table at nomunication.jp. But the fact that this is described as a “Pure Malt” (i.e., a vatted malt or blended malt) indicates that this whisky comes from more than one distillery.

This particular Reki Pure Malt whisky was released by Helios in 2017 for a whisky exhibition, in distinctive 180 mL bottles made of Cobalt blue glass (a classy touch). My bottle was given to me as a gift by colleagues on a trip to Japan in early 2019. Bottled at 40% ABV. The label simply says “Produced by Helios Distillery Co. Ltd, Okinawa, Japan”.

There are too few reviews of this whisky to make it into my Meta-Critic Whisky Database to date, but please see some preliminary comments at the end of the review (and continue to check the database for updates).

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Very pale yellow gold, straw.

Nose: Very briny, with lots of minerality (flint, gunpowder). Rubber. Very earthy and herbaceous (dry herbs). Apples and pear. Lemon curd. Reminds me a lot of Ledaig 10yo, but not as overtly smokey. Me likes!

Palate: Light caramel sweetness, but with a malty core. Orange/tangerine show up now. Reminds me of an orange-infused sponge cake with lemon frosting – a real “light” dessert whisky. Relatively thin mouthfeel, even for 40% ABV. Ashy taste on the swallow, but still not exactly smokey. I’ve had some very youthful Bowmores that similarly seem both peated and non-peated at the same time.

Finish: Medium. Honey shows up now, adding to that lingering frosting sweetness. The ashyness persists as well, but it is faint. No off notes, very pleasant on the way out.

It is a very pleasant sipper, but it has a definite “smoke but no fire” character – the nose promises a peated experience, but the palate and finish remain surprisingly gentle (and very “cakey”). My main impression is that the core spirit of this blended malt is quite youthful – but without the harshness that mars many young spirits. I would guess whomever made this knows how to run a still! I would be very keen to try aged spirits from this distillery.

There is something very Japanese about this whisky – it is well constructed, and gives no offense at any point in its development. That being said, I was hoping for more character in the mouth, given the promise of that mineral/rubbery nose. Bottling at a higher ABV would also certainly have helped.

In terms of a score, I would give it a slightly below average rating, maybe ~8.3-8.4 on the Meta-Critic scale. Serge of Whisky Fun gave it a slightly more positive score, by his personal rating system. While I enjoyed it, the thin mouthfeel and soft character on the palate contribute to my giving this a lower overall rating. A pleasant surprise, but still a ways to go.

J.P. Wiser’s 23 Year Old Cask Strength Blend (2019)

Here’s something you don’t see very often – a cask-strength Canadian “blend.”

In Canadian whisky making, different grains are typically distilled and aged separately, only coming together at the very end to make the final whisky product. The “typical” J.P. Wiser’s blend is mainly high-proof double-distilled corn whisky, with some lower proof single column-distilled rye whisky for flavouring.

When Wiser’s opted to make a cask-strength version of their line for the Northern Border Collection this year (2019), they didn’t know what the final strength was going to be. Earlier draft versions, when they were trying to settle on the profile (which some reviewers got to sample) were at higher strength than this final release.

Bottled finally at 64.3% ABV, Wiser’s NBC release this year has a minimum age of 23 years old. While this is not as old as previous J.P. Wiser’s 35 year old bottlings released as part of the NBC in 2017 and 2018, the extra alcoholic strength is appreciated by whisky enthusiasts (previous 35 yo bottlings were 50% ABV). But there may be an advantage to the younger age – extensive aging can yield increased ethyl acetate production, due to ethanol esterification over time (common in higher-proof whiskies, as done in Canada). This sweet-smelling aromatic compound is commonly used in glues and nail polish remover (along with acetone), and can thus be detected as off-notes in aged whiskies in higher concentrations (i.e., I find it noticeable in the Wiser’s 35yo and Canadian Club 40yo). So the younger age here should help offset that effect.

I bought my bottle of the J.P. Wiser’s 23yo for $150 CAD at the LCBO.

Here is how it compares to other Wiser’s and Northern Border Collection whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky database:

Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain (2017): 8.69 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Eleven Souls Four Grain (2018): 8.84 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts 19yo 49 Wellington (2019): 8.85 ± 0.32 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.39 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.54 ± 0.41 on 18 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 23yo Cask Strength Blend (2019): 9.07 ± 0.23 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo (2017): 9.01 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo (2018): 9.08 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.17 ± 0.13 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (2017): 9.06 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.76 ± 0.47 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Double Barrel Speyside Cask Finish (2017): 8.64 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Double Barrel European Oak Cask (2018): 8.52 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks (2019): 8.92 ± 0.29 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

And now for what I find in the glass:

Nose: A lot of oak is present, but a lot of floral and spicy notes come through immediately too. Caramel and vanilla underpin this whisky, with dry oak and barrel char. Full bodied and perfumy. Corn syrup. Not very fruity at cask strength, mainly grapefruit citrus, but some apple and some light berry notes too. Nutmeg and cinnamon. Hint of glue notes at the end, but definitely less than the previous 35yo bottlings. Water accentuates the rye spice and brings up pepper. It’s nice.

Palate: Thick and luscious mouthfeel at full proof. Cinnamon, brown sugar and caramel swirl together, like a Cinnabon bun (heck, even the icing sugar topping shows up!). Rye spices (cloves joining the cinnamon and nutmeg) arrive and linger on the swallow, with black pepper joining in. Tobacco and hint of mustard seed (i.e., something earthy). The mix seems just about right to me, with loads of spiciness and sweetness. Water does little to tame the burn initially (unless you go heavy on it), and brings up some extra fruitiness – blueberries and grapes. Some graininess also appears now.

Finish: Sweet and sticky toffee, lingering corn syrup and rye spices. A light oaky bitterness builds with time, but is very mild (seems worse with water, oddly). Orange citrus rind is cleansing throughout. This is a surprisingly clean finish for such a big, oaky whisky.

The nose is a classic Canadian whisky – heavy on corn, but with definite rye flavouring spices – and with some extra barrel char. Very well done, without any real off-notes. The oakiness (from its 23 years in cask) comes through – and there must be some re-char casks in there, to give it it this much clean flavour. In the mouth, this is a liquid Cinnabon bun! I don’t expect anyone to really drink this neat (although you actually could), and water enhances both the spices and the fruitiness. I recommend you go lightly on the water to keep the glorious mouthfeel, although it can handle a lot and still maintain its “traditionally Canadian” profile.

A very careful selection of casks must have gone into this selection this year. It does lack some of the complexity of the previous 35 yo releases – but it makes up for it with a stronger oaky body, and a more pleasant overall experience. Oddly enough, I find this 23 yo is more approachable overall, despite the higher proof. I would give it roughly the same score as the previous 35 year old editions, as all are excellent.

Among reviewers, both Jason of In Search of Elegance and Mark of Whisky.buzz give it top marks. The Toronto Whisky Society seemed to be equally superlative on this release. Davin of Whisky Advocate gives this whisky a more moderately positive score, not as high as previous 35 yo editions. I’m somewhat in-between these levels, with a well-above-average rating (consistent with the 35 yo), but not quite in my absolute top range. Certainly a great example of a quality Canadian whisky blend – and at cask-strength to boot.

J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old (2018)

As part of the second release of the Northern Border Collection in 2018, Corby kept the J.P. Wiser’s namesake whisky in the lineup consistent as a 35 year old expression, bottled at 50% ABV.

By all accounts, this appears to be the same formula as the 2017 version: predominantly double-distilled corn whisky, distilled to a high ABV and aged in re-used ex-bourbon barrels. As before, it also includes ~10% column- and pot-distilled rye whisky, aged in virgin oak barrels.

Unfortunately, the price went up significantly from the initial 2017 release ($165 CAD), and the newer 2018 edition retails for $200 CAD at the LCBO. I received a sample from the Reddit reviewer the_muskox.

Here is how it compares to other bottlings in the J.P. Wiser’s family, and the other members of Northern Border collection, in my Meta-Critic Database.

Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain (2017): 8.69 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Eleven Souls Four Grain (2018): 8.84 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts 19yo 49 Wellington (2019): 8.85 ± 0.32 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.39 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.54 ± 0.41 on 18 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 23yo Cask Strength Blend (2019): 9.07 ± 0.23 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo (2017): 9.01 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo (2018): 9.08 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.17 ± 0.13 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (2017): 9.06 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.76 ± 0.47 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Double Barrel Speyside Cask Finish (2017): 8.64 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Double Barrel European Oak Cask (2018): 8.52 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks (2019): 8.92 ± 0.29 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

I was a fan of the inaugural release, so let’s see what I find in the glass now, relative to the 2017 version:

Nose: Still very sweet, but with less brown sugar now (still plenty of caramel, vanilla and maple syrup). Slightly fruitier, with peaches and plums joining the apple from before (still has orange citrus). I’m getting more simple rye spice this time, cloves especially, but it is not as floral. Perhaps a bit more grassy in exchange. Some pepper. A bit more nose hair prickle than before, seems stronger. But for all that, these are minor differences – overall profile is very, very similar. Acetone and glue notes are unchanged. I think I actually prefer this one a bit more, as the rye and fruits are coming through clearer.

Palate: Super sweet initially, with again more of the fruit coming to the fore. Rye spices are bit sharper, with prominent cloves (last time found the milder rye spices dominant, like cinnamon and nutmeg). Peppery, as before, and with those tannic black tea notes. Not really getting the floral notes (or hint of dill) any more. Same texture and mouth feel as before, nice and syrupy. It seems a touch less complex in the mouth, but that may be because the rye and fruity notes are more present. Still very nice.

Finish: ‎Unchanged, and fairly quick for the age. Caramel sweetness returns and dominates. Caramel corn, with a touch of cinnamon this time. Not a lot going on here, as before, but pleasant on the way out.

This is very similar to last year’s edition. The differences are fairly subtle, with more fruity and direct rye spice coming up this time. The end result is to make this edition slightly more approachable and easier to drink – but lacking some of the more complex earthy/floral notes from the first edition. I could see favouring this 2018 bottle when you just wanted to relax with the whisky – but the earlier 2017 bottle when you wanted to spend time drawing out the individual notes. But honestly, the difference is so small that I don’t think they deserve a different score – I would rank them both the same.

As you may have noticed above, the 2018 edition of the J.P. Wiser’s 35 year old has a marginally higher overall Meta-Critic score than the 2017 edition – but based on fewer reviews. In this case, we actually have paired data to look at, as it turns out all the reviewers of the 2018 edition also reviewed the original 2017 edition. Interestingly, most reviewers preferred the older edition. This was noticeable in the case of Jason of In Search of Elegance and Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, mildly so in the case of Davin of Whisky Advocate. TOModera of Reddit gave both editions the same high score (as do I). The one exception is smoked_herring of Reddit, who preferred the 2018 edition.

So why the noticably higher average score in 2018?  Well, there were a couple of reviewers who only sampled the 2017 edition who gave it a lower than typical score. So as a result, you can see why this year’s version is doing better overall in terms of average Meta-Critic score. But among reviewers of both editions, it seems there is a slight preference for 2017 edition more generally.

All that said, the bottlings are again really not that different – I suspect most enthusiasts would be happy either one. The 2018 edition is still available at the LCBO, and I’ve seen it recently in Alberta as well.

 

 

Alberta Premium Cask Strength 100% Rye

Another sought-after limited-release Canadian whisky this year, Alberta Distillers has produced a new cask-strength 100% rye. Initially released in Alberta, it has now begun to show up (in small amounts) at the LCBO in Ontario and in private liquor stores in BC.

Alberta Distillers sells a lot of rye whisky in Canada under the Alberta Premium brand, but also exports a lot to the United States. Long controlled by Beam, much of the AP rye finds its way into American whiskies. This is true at both the low end for blended products, but also at the higher-end of straight ryes, such as the virgin oak-aged Masterson’s and WhistlePig offerings (all sourced from Alberta Distillers whisky).

Regular Alberta Premium is a common, entry-level 100% rye in Canada – and one that I cannot personally recommend. With the merger of Beam and Suntory in 2014 (the latter controlling the Canadian Club brand), a new 100% rye whisky sourced from the Alberta Distillers was launched as Canadian Club 100% Rye. This entry-level rye is a much more flavourful offering from Alberta Distillers in Canada.

Most Canadians would know Alberta Premium as an entry-level brand suitable mainly for mixing (although Dark Horse is quite sip-able neat). However, earlier 25 year old and 30 year old limited-release Alberta Premium bottlings were highly regarded by enthusiasts at the time. So there was great interest in the community when a new 20 year old bottling and this cask-strength release were announced earlier this year.

The cask-strength is bottled at 65.1% ABV, and sold in a glass version of the (much derided) standard Alberta Premium bottle, with a common screw cap. It sells for $65 CAD in Ontario, but I picked it up for $58 in Alberta last week.

Here is how it compares to other Alberta Distillers-sourced whiskies – and recent Lot 40 cask-strengths – in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Alberta Premium: 8.08 ± 0.68 on 13 reviews ($)
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye: 8.78 ± 0.29 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.57 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Alberta Rye Dark Batch: 8.56 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.23 ± 0.44 on 9 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.25 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($)
Little Book Chapter 2 Noe Simple Task: 8.95 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (2017): 9.06 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.15 ± 0.13 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.70 ± 0.51 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye: 10yo 8.83 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.77 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$$)

As a recent release, there are relatively few review so far. I recommend you check out out my database directly for updates.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Overwhelming bubblegum initially. There is caramel here, and tons of fruit, with fresh bananas, cherries, apricots, oranges, and green grapes (also some figs). Sweet and creamy, almost like a fruit liqueur. Rye spices tend more towards cloves than the typical cinnamon, but there’s soft nutmeg here too. Peppery. Wintergreen lifesavers. Has an earthy quality, but dry and dusty. There is a very faint solvent smell lurking in the background, but easy to miss. This a massive fruity rye nose. Water enhances the caramel, and brings in a milk chocolate note.

Palate: A bit hit of simple sugar syrup and tons of citrus initially (oranges). Fruits from the nose are heavily present, along with a strong oak backbone. Heavy rye spices (with cinnamon now) and loads of black pepper. The earthy quality gets more vegetal in the mouth. Good amount of sweet caramel on the swallow. The ABV reveals itself, so you will want to take small sips. With water, texture turns velvety, and chocolate velvet cake comes to mind as well. I also get walnuts. If you like you whiskies sweet, you will like this whisky.

Finish: A good length. Caramel sweetness and oaky notes last the longest, with some lingering woody bitterness (which is somewhat drying). Dried cherries. Cleansing orange citrus washes over the tongue. A hint of dill.

Wow, the fruity bubblegum really gives it away – this is not a cask strength version of Alberta Premium, it is a cask-strength version of Canadian Club 100% Rye (with some extra oaky notes thrown in). And that is probably a good thing, as CC 100% Rye is actually quite a decent rye whisky. It’s nice to see a woodier cask-strength version.

You will want some water to tame the burn here, but if anything water actually accentuates the creamy sweetness. While this does not have the complexity of the older virgin oak-aged WhistlePig or Masterson’s Alberta ryes, it still has considerable charm (especially for the relatively low price).

While a fun ride, I would definitely put it a notch or two below Masterson’s 10 yo or the typical cask-strength Lot 40 ryes (although roughly on par with the French oak-finished Third Edition recently reviewed). If your preference is more for bold, fruity sweetness, this is the whisky to go for – the Lot 40 cask strengths remain more refined. That said, I would personally give this a point higher than the current Meta-Critic average score (i.e., ~8.9).

The highest relative score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Redditor _xile, followed by positive reviews from Jason of In Search of Elegance and Bryan of the Toronto Whisky Society. Mark of Whisky Buzz gives it a positive review, but a slightly-below average score (for him). A good value cask-strength 100% rye, if your tastes run more toward the sweeter side.

Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019)

As always, the most highly-anticipated release of the Northern Border Collection 2019 is the cask-strength Lot no 40. The 2018 Lot 40 cask strength edition quickly sold out at the LCBO last year. Indeed, I had to pick up my bottle in Alberta a few weeks later, since I missed the two-hour window that it was available online that year (!).

Lacking an age statement this year, the Lot 40 Cask-Strength is referred to simply as “Third Edition.” This lack of a defined age has dampened enthusiasm for it among the local whisky community here, but it is still expected to be a star seller for the brand. Once again, I picked up my bottle in Alberta (where it was widely available) ahead of the Ontario LCBO release last week.

As background, Lot 40 is the classic flavouring whisky for Corby – 100% pot-distilled rye, aged in virgin American oak barrels. I’m guessing they ran low on older stocks this year, after the success of the previous two cask-strength releases. So they opted for a different approach, trying a finishing twist: 75% of the whisky was doubly-aged in brand new French oak barrels. This is bound to add vanilla sweetness, and a different oaky experience.

Based on the label, 5460 bottles were produced, which is a bit more than previous years. Bottled at 57.0% ABV this year. It retails for a bit less than last year’s expression, selling for $90 CAD at the LCBO (a bit more out West).

Here is how it compares to the other Lot 40 releases in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Lot 40: 8.86 ± 0.33 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.16 ± 0.10 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (2017): 9.06 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.15 ± 0.13 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.70 ± 0.51 on 4 reviews ($$$$)

Note that there are few scores to date, so please check out the database directly for updated results. But as an aside, I personally agree with the relative quality ranking of the 2018 > 2017 > 2019 editions so far.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with tons of caramel and brown sugar. Vanilla and maple syrup. Heavily caramelized, but also rich and creamy – like whipped cream. On first nose, this is more like a Cognac or Armagnac than a whisky. Bananas and dark red fruits (cherries and red currants). Heavy rye spices, especially cinnamon and nutmeg. Charred and toasted oak. Walnuts. The classic Lot 40 floral notes are there (e.g. lilac), but a bit lost under all that sweet oak and spice (although to be fair, a lot of the more delicate Lot 40 aspects are diminished in the cask strength releases, even without the extra finishing). This really does smell like cask-strength Lot 40 finished in French oak! No off notes. Touch of water brings up the fruit, but also a dry wood note and loads of pepper – doesn’t need much here.

Palate: Liquid caramel followed by hefty hit of rye spices, plus chilies and black pepper. More peppery than previous Lot 40 cask strength releases, must be due to the French oak. Also a slight bitterness on the swallow. Thick and viscous mouthfeel, you will definitely need some water. With water, the fruits finally show up, with blueberries and papaya adding to the banana and red fruits. Instant mouth feel change, so go easy on the water – it really just needs a few drops. Beyond that, it gets watery fast, with no additional flavours emerging.

Finish: Undiluted, it seems quicker than past years, with sweet oak dominating initially with a light dusting of rye spices and dry paper. No real fruits or floral, and that slight bitterness returns. With water, juicy fruit gum and dried banana show up. It also seems to linger longer with water, so I recommend adding some to help the experience.

This is a great whisky, and worth the price in my view. A few drops of water is a must for the best effect, but go easy on it – you definitely don’t want to drown this whisky.

That said, it is true that the French oak dominates over the classic Lot 40 notes. Interestingly, both the French oak-derived caramelized sweetness and the spicy pepper notes come through at multiple points. It is basically what I expected for the French oak experience – only more so!

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am not always a fan of French oak finishing, as I find it can be too woody sometimes (including too bitter). That is not the case here, as the base Lot 40 seems to have been a good substrate for the French oak finishing – but at the cost of somewhat reduced rye character in the final product. Of course, given the lack of an age statement, it is probable that they used younger Lot 40 stocks as well (which also would have contributed to reduced character).

Personally, I would prefer that they return to the (later) age-stated cask strength Lot 40 style for future batches. But I actually like this whisky for what it is – a good example of French oak finishing. I would rate it lower than the last two editions, but not by much. I would definitely give it a point or two higher than the current Meta-Critic average score.

Among reviewers, the most positive review I’ve seen so far is from Davin of Whisky Advocate (which I concur with). Moderately positive is Jason of In Search of Elegance. More neutral is the Toronto Whisky Society. The lowest score I’ve seen is from Mark of Whisky Buzz (although Mark was more positive in his podcast interview with Dr Don Livermore). Definitely worth picking up if you think you would like this style.

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Overview: 2018-2019 & 2019-2020 Editions

In addition to my stand-alone reviews, I thought I would provide an overview for this NHL Alumni series, as multiple editions (each featuring multiple whiskies) are now available – with more soon to be released (see below). This will help you better understand the context for these whiskies, and the individual “score cards” below will allow you to quickly focus in on ones that may be interested to try.

As context, when the first batch of J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series whiskies were released in late 2018, many Canadian whisky enthusiasts seemed to dismiss these as some sort of marketing gimmick. The relatively low ABV (and low price) of the first edition of this series may have suggested to some that they were just re-branded existing Wiser’s blends.

But the integral role of Dr Don Livermore in creating of each individual whisky caused a few of us to take notice. As Master Blender of Corby, Dr Don is responsible for all the recent premium J.P. Wiser’s releases, including the Rare Casks series and the highly sought-after annual Northern Border Collection releases. Dr Don offers blending classes at Wiser’s distillery in Windsor, Ontario – and took each of the star players these whiskies are named after through the process, so that they could really contribute to the composition of their namesake blends.

Somewhat like playing cards, each edition of this NHL Alumni series features three whiskies named after star hockey players. The profits from the sales of these whiskies are shared evenly with the NHL Alumni Association, to help support former players in need (i.e., those who didn’t receive star contracts). Each bottle retails for a very reasonable ~$45 CAD in most jurisdictions.

The first 2018-2019 edition (Guy Lafleur, Wendel Clark and Lanny McDonald) was initially released with a limited Provincial distribution – reflecting the home team of the individual players in their heydays. But these are now all available in Ontario. Well, all except for the popular Guy Lafleur edition, which seems to be sold-out everywhere (as November 2019).

For whisky geeks, these bottlings are a lot of fun. Each whisky has an age statement, and detailed distilling and barreling details specific for that release. For hockey fans, there are many “easter eggs”, or nods to the individual player’s career highlights for each bottle. Many of these are not immediately obvious, so I thought I would detail them all here for the first three sets of releases. Even the labels are pretty neat, with artsy illustrations of the players, with their names in their dominant team colours. And I can’t help but notice that while they use the Gooderham & Worts bottle shape, the cork cap has a black round disc top – like a hockey puck, perhaps?

I’m frankly still at a bit of loss as to why these Alumni series whiskies continue to fly under the radar of most Canadian reviewers. But it looks like Wiser’s is starting to circulate the third release to some online reviewers ahead of time, so that’s probably a positive sign they will start promote these more extensively. All my reviews come from bottles I’ve personally bought.

At this time (November 2019), most of the original 2018-2019 edition and the first batch of the 2019-2020 edition whiskies are available in Ontario at the LCBO. These can also be ordered directly from J.P. Wiser’s website (for delivery in Ontario only). A second batch of 2019-2020 edition whiskies, reflecting a series of team Captains, is due out shortly.

Again, there are relatively few reviews of these to date. In addition to checking out my detailed reviews (links below), I recommend you check out the ones from the Toronto Whisky Society, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Chip the RumHowler. Mark Bylok has also recently recorded a series overview on his whisky.buzz podcast. More recently, the guys at Quebec Whisky have reviewed all three batches, and TOModera of Reddit has reviewed the first two.

To help you compare, here are my Meta-Critic results for the Alumni series so far, compared to other inexpensive Wiser’s products:

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sitter 10yo: 8.09 ± 0.40 on 7 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Dave Keon 14yo: 8.82 ± 0.13 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.10 on 10 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny MacDonald 9yo: 8.17 ± 0.48 on 10 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6yo: 8.55 ± 0.33 on 7 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Mark Messier 11yo: 8.84 ± 0.32 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey 7yo: 8.18 ± 0.45 on 6 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 8.87 ± 0.28 on 10 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Yvan Cournoyer 12yo: 8.58 ± 0.23 on 5 reviews ($$)

J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.39 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.98 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Rye: 7.93 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Small Batch: 8.49 ± 0.28 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Special Blend: 7.34 ± 0.85 on 6 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye: 8.53 ± 0.25 on 9 reviews ($)

2018-2019 Edition – Wendel Clark, Guy Lafleur, and Lanny McDonald

Wendel Clark

Grain: 100% unmalted rye
Age: 11 years old
ABV: 41.6%
Distillation: mainly column-distilled, but some column-then-pot distilled as well
Oak: mainly ex-Bourbon, but some Virgin Oak casks as well

The defining feature of this whisky is the 100% rye, meant to reflect Clark’s bold, aggressive playing style for the Toronto Maple Leafs. This release certainly has some similarity to the classic Lot 40. Indeed, a portion of it seems to be exactly that – that is, 100% unmalted rye, first column-distilled then distilled a second time in a copper pot still, and aged in virgin oak barrels. But the extra age is appreciated (Lot 40 has no age statement, assumed to be a few years younger). According to the whisky.buzz podcast with Dr Don, most of this Wendel Clark release is from column-distilled, 100% unmalted rye aged in ex-bourbon barrels. The unusual ABV of 41.6% is a reference to the classic Toronto telephone area code.

While it lacks some of the floral elements of Lot 40, it is pretty close in quality overall, in my opinion. Personally, I find Lot 40 has a slightly more intense rye finish, but this Wendel Clark is definitely fruitier and sweeter overall (especially in the mouth). The extra age helps with the complexity too, making this one an outstanding value in the Canadian whisky class. My top draft pick from among the first two editions of the Alumni series so far.

Please see my full review for detailed tasting notes.

Guy Lafleur

Grain: 100% corn
Age: 10 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: double-column distilled
Oak: mix of ex-Speyside, ex-rum, and ex-Bourbon casks

Guy Lafleur was the star right-wing forward for the Montreal Canadians during my youth, renown for his “Flower Power.” The defining feature of this whisky is “smooth” – a reference to Lafleur’s gracefulness on ice. The 10-year old age statement is a nod to his retired Canadiens jersey number. And the roughly 1/3 proportion of cask types is an homage to his many hat-tricks.

This is a very easy-drinking and sweet whisky. Indeed, you could potentially mistake it for a lighter rum instead of a whisky – the rum influence is just that great. Slightly less spicy than the current Pike Creek 10yo, but with a lot of similarities due to the rum barrels. A crowd pleaser for sure, this one was a particularly big hit with my Dad when I gave it to him for Father’s Day. It is a little too much on the sweet side for me personally though.

Please see my full review for detailed tasting notes.

Lanny McDonald

Grain: mainly corn, followed by wheat (a significant amount), and a touch of rye
Age: 9 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: corn is unknown (likely column distilled), wheat is pot distilled, and rye is column distilled
Oak: used Canadian whisky barrels for the corn and rye distillates, Virgin Oak casks for the wheat

The relatively heavy use of wheat in this whisky is a nod to Lanny McDonald’s youth, having grown up on a farm in Alberta. Apparently, it was also his personal preference among the whiskies he sampled for consideration in this blend. The 9-year old age statement refers to Lanny’s jersey number, when he played right wing for the Calgary Flames.

A sweet whisky overall – but also with character, in a dry and dusty style. Very easy to drink, but with a different flavour profile than typical – with  strong nutty, tobacco and anise flavours (presumably from the wheat).

Wheat whiskies can be hard to do well. I haven’t been a fan of most Canadian wheat-heavy whiskeys, but I rather like this one. It is “softer” than a wheated bourbon, but brings in some of the same elements (likely thanks to the virgin oak casks). If you are in the mood for black licorice, this would fit the bill.

Please see my full review for detailed tasting notes.

2019-2020 Edition – Larry Robinson, Darryl Sittler, Paul Cofey

Larry Robinson

Grain: mainly corn, with a significant amount of rye (19%)
Age: 6 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: column distilled
Oak: six barrel types – used Canadian whisky barrels, double charred, ex-Bourbon, rum, Port and French Oak casks

Larry Robinson, aka “Big Bird”, was my favourite defenceman as a kid, during the heyday of the 1970s/80-era Montreal Canadiens. The hockey link here is in reference to Larry’s 6 Stanley Cup wins – the whisky is 6 years old, and 6 different barrel types went into the blend. The French Oak was apparently included because he played in Quebec (although that one seems a bit tenuous). The relatively high amount of rye (19%) reflects his jersey number. The relative complexity of the blend supposedly reflects Larry’s “intellectual” and serious attention to detail, both in the game and in the blending process.

This is a very distinctive Canadian whisky – it has a lot more going on than you would normally come across. It is also the most complex of the Alumni series to date. I find the diverse cask influence works really well on the nose, with a great balance of aromas across classic winey, bourbony and oaky styles. Tasty enough in the mouth as well, but with a real jolt of spice that I wasn’t expecting from the nose. Unfortunately, the finish is where this one fizzles out for me. A bitter oak influence asserts itself on the finish, along with a lack of character that is consistent with the younger spirits that went into this blend. I think it would have benefited from longer aging, and a bit less overt oakiness.

Please see my full review for detailed tasting notes.

Darryl Sittler

Grain: mainly corn, followed by rye (6%), wheat (4%) and malted barley (4%)
Age: 10 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: all column distilled
Oak: mainly used Canadian whisky barrels, some ex-Bourbon casks

Judging from my Toronto friends, it seems like Darryl Sittler was one of the most popular centres to ever play for the Maple Leafs. The main hockey link here is the age and grain proportions of this whisky, both referring to a record-setting 10-point night for Darryl: the rye/wheat-barley mix reflects his number of goals (6) and assists (4) in that 1976 game. The overall style is said to be a “well-rounded” whisky, much like his famed playing style.

Probably the most traditional “Canadian Rye” whisky of the lineup so far, with its column-distilled grainy character and somewhat standard blend of grains. It has a strong corn-forward presence on the nose, but with a surprising amount of dry rye spices in the mouth (and dusty/earthy notes as well). It has been a while since I’ve had Wiser’s Deluxe, but this seems a like an amped-up version of it to me (and so, may also be best suited as mixer). It’s not bad by any stretch, but also not very distinctive either.

Please see my full review for detailed tasting notes.

Paul Coffey

Grain: mainly corn, with some rye (7%)
Age: 7 years old
ABV: 48%
Distillation: all column distilled
Oak: used Canadian whisky barrels, ex-Speyside, ex-Bourbon, and Virgin Oak casks

A star defenceman for the Edmonton Oilers, the obvious connection to Paul Coffey is his jersey number (7), which relates both the age of this whisky and the proportion of rye in the blend. The noticeably higher proof at 48% ABV also refers to his historic 48 goal season (a record for the most goals scored by a defenseman in a single season). The higher proof is probably also a nod to his high-energy form of play.

I haven’t picked this one up, but will update this review if I get a chance to try it. From the reviews online, it seems like this is sweet and light, with a fairly typical Canadian whisky profile – except for the higher strength. But the higher strength (and young age) may be an issue, as I’ve seen complaints that it is also very “spirity.” It gets the lowest scores to date for the Alumni series.

2019-2020 Edition – Mark Messier, Yvan Courneyor, Dave Keon

A second batch of 2019-2020 edition is coming out this winter, featuring a series of team Captains (as a nice touch, the jersey “C” are all clearly visible in the player illustrations).  Advanced information is provided below, with more details to follow once known. One editorial comment: I’m glad to see the age statements have gone back up to >10 years!

Mark Messier

Grain: a blend of corn, rye, and malt barley
Age: 11 years old
ABV: 47%
Distillation: single column distilled rye and malt, double distilled corn
Oak: ex-Bourbon and ex-Speyside casks

Mark Messier was a star centre for the Edmonton Oilers, and as Captain, led both the Oilers and New York Rangers to Stanley Cup victories. This whisky is aged 11 years in honour of Messier’s jersey number, and is bottled at 94 proof in honour of Messier winning the cup in 1994 in New York.

Yvan Courneyor

Grain: a blend of corn, rye, and malted barley
Age: 12  years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: single column distilled rye, column and then pot-distilled rye (i.e., Lot 40), double distilled corn, and column distilled malt.
Oak: a mix of used Canadian barrels, ex-Bourbon and Virgin Oak casks

Yvan “The Roadrunner” Cournoyer was a right-winger and Captain of the Montreal Canadiens from 1975-78. But his peak years were 1971-73, and he was famous for his role in the 1972 Summit Series – scoring three goals, and providing the crucial assist for Paul Henderson’s series-ending winning goal. And that is one of the nods here – apparently the mix for this whisky was “inspired” by the 1972 recipe for Carleton Tower, an old Hiram Walker blend. It is aged for 12 years in honour of Cournoyer’s retired jersey number. This is the whisky that I am most curious to try when this new edition is released, with its base of Lot 40 rye.

Dave Keon

Grain: a blend of corn, rye, and malted barley
Age: 14 years old
ABV: 45%
Distilling: single column distilled rye, column and pot-distilled rye, single column distilled malt, and double distilled corn.
Oak: a mix of used Canadian barrels, ex-Bourbon, Virgin Oak, and ex-Speyside casks

Dave Keon was a centre forward for the Maple Leafs – from an earlier generation in the early-to-mid 1960s when they won several Stanley Cups (prior to his being named Captain). Aged 14 years in honour of his jersey number 14. The ABV is also a nod to Keon’s 45-point first season. And the 4 types of oak casks are a nod to his 4 Stanley Cup wins. Another one to watch out for!

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6 Year Old

This is my second review of the 2019-2020 Edition of J.P. Wiser’s NHL Alumni series of whiskies. Following up on the inaugural release of the 2018-2019 Edition, a second offering was released in the spring of 2019. This 2019-2020 Edition features whiskies named after Larry Robinson, Darryl Sittler, and Paul Coffey. As before, each of these players was involved in helping select component whiskies for their namesake blends. The profits from the series are shared evenly with NHL Alumni Association, to help support former players in need. As before, these all retail for ~$45 CAD in most jurisdictions.

I was generally impressed with the 2018-2019 Edition, which all featured age statements and more distilling and barreling details than typically found in Canadian whiskies (especially at this price point). All whiskies are designed by Dr Don Livermore, Master Blender of Corby (who owns J.P. Wiser’s). He is the person most directly responsible for all the popular limited/special releases coming out of Corby (i.e., the Rare Cask series and the Northern Border Collection).

At this time (November 2019), all of the original 2019-2020 Edition whiskies are widely available in Ontario at the LCBO. These can even be ordered directly from J.P. Wiser’s website (for delivery in Ontario only).

Let’s check out the composition of this Larry Robinson whisky:

Grain: Mainly corn, with a significant amount of rye (19%)
Age: 6 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: column distilled
Oak: six barrel types; standard used Canadian whisky, double charred, ex-Bourbon, rum, Port and French Oak

Larry Robinson, aka “Big Bird”, was my favourite defenceman as a kid (Bobby Orr was a bit ahead of my time ;). Larry played with the Montreal Canadiens during their second heyday in the late 1970s, early 1980s. The hockey nod here is in reference to Larry’s 6 Stanley Cup wins – the whisky is 6 years old, and 6 different barrel types went into the blend. The relatively high amount of rye (19%) reflects his jersey number. The French Oak was apparently included because he played in Quebec (although that one seems a bit tenuous). The relative complexity of the blend supposedly reflects Larry’s “intellectual” and serious attention to detail, both in the game and in the blending process.

This is definitely the most diverse whisky in the series so far. Indeed, I suspect it is also the most expensive to produce, given the costs associated with all those special casks. Certainly a first to see a Canadian whisky at this price point feature French Oak and Port casks.

Here are how this whisky compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, relative to the other Alumni series releases, and some whiskies with similar profiles.

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sitter 10yo: 8.31 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny MacDonald 9yo: 8.46 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6yo: 8.52 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey 7yo: 8.11 ± 0.11 on 2 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 9.01 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)

Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.57 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Bearface Triple Oak 7yo: 8.39 ± 0.19 on 7 reviews ($$)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.53 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend: 8.30 ± 0.71 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine French Oak Cask Finished: 8.25 ± 0.81 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.65 ± 0.49 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Unity: 8.95 ± 0.29 on 4 reviews ($$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: A lot going on here, reflecting all the casks that went into it. Winey notes strike me immediately, with grapes and dried fruits. Next up are the sweet rum and bourbon notes, heavy with molasses and brown sugar. Candy floss. The drier oak spices come next, musty and leathery, and then the baking spices. No real off notes. A lot to dissect here, but very sweet and fruity overall. Nice!

Palate: Sweet bourbon notes to start, with caramel, vanilla and cola. Then the winey grape flavours, maybe a bit nutty. But a real hit of rye spice – cinnamon and cloves especially – dominate mid-palate. Dill and a touch of cayenne pepper. Finally, the woody oak notes drift in on the swallow, with dry paper/cardboard. Hotter than I expect for 40% ABV, I think the youthful spirit is asserting itself here.

Finish: The sweet caramel and vanilla notes make a resurgence, as do the drier rye spices. But the bitter oaky notes – and the dry paper taste – dominate. I’m afraid this one loses some points on the finish for me.

This is a very distinctive Canadian whisky – there is a lot more going on than you would normally come across. I find the diverse cask influence works really well on the nose, with a great balance of aromas across classic winey, bourbony and oaky styles. You pick up more and more aromas as you spend your time with it. Tasty enough in the mouth as well, but with a real jolt of spice that I wasn’t expecting from the nose.

Unfortunately, the finish is where this one fizzles out for me. The heavier oak influence asserts itself on the finish, along with a general lack of character that is consistent with the younger spirits that went into this blend. I think it would have benefited from longer aging, and a bit less overt oakiness. But it is still a nice whisky overall, with a very complex nose.

There are relatively few reviews to date. I recommend you check out the ones from the Toronto Whisky Society and Jason of In Search of Elegance. Mark Bylok also covered this whisky in his recent series overview whisky.buzz podcast. I find the Meta-Critic average score to be appropriate. Still widely available in Ontario.

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sittler 10 Year Old

Following up on the inaugural 2018-2019 Edition of the J.P. Wiser’s Alumni series, a second offering was released in the spring of 2019. This 2019-2020 Edition features whiskies named after Darryl Sittler, Larry Robinson, and Paul Coffey. As before, each of these players were involved in helping select component whiskies for their namesake blends. The profits from the series are shared evenly with NHL Alumni Association, to help support former players in need. As before, these all retail for ~$45 CAD in most jurisdictions.

I was generally impressed with the 2018-2019 Edition whiskies, which all featured age statements and more distilling and barreling details than typically found in Canadian whiskies (especially at this price point). All whiskies are designed by Dr Don Livermore, Master Blender of Corby (who owns J.P. Wiser’s). He is the person most directly responsible for all the popular limited/special releases coming out of Corby (i.e., the Rare Cask series and the Northern Border Collection).

At this time (November 2019), all of the 2019-2020 Edition whiskies remain widely available in Ontario at the LCBO. These can even be ordered directly from J.P. Wiser’s website (for delivery in Ontario only).

First, let’s check out the composition of this Darryl Sittler namesake whisky:

Grain: mainly corn, followed by rye (6%), wheat (4%) and malted barley (4%)
Age: 10 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: all column distilled
Oak: mainly used Canadian whisky barrels, some ex-Bourbon casks

Growing up in Montreal in the 1970s and 80s, I didn’t get to see a lot Toronto Maple Leaf games (as the Leafs and Canadiens were rarely matched up in that period). But I saw enough to know that Darryl Sittler was one of Toronto’s most popular players. A centre for the Leafs, Darryl even captained the Leafs for a period during this era.

The main hockey link here is the age and grain proportions of this whisky, both referring to a famous 10-point night for Darryl in 1976: the rye/wheat-barley mix reflects his number of goals (6) and assists (4) in that game (the record still stands, by the way). The overall whisky style is said to be “well-rounded,” much like his famed playing style.

Here is how this Darryl Sittler whisky compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, relative to other Alumni releases and some similar whiskies:

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sitter 10yo: 8.31 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny MacDonald 9yo: 8.46 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6yo: 8.52 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey 7yo: 8.11 ± 0.11 on 2 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 9.01 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)

Crown Royal: 7.56 ± 0.48 on 20 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Reserve: 8.41 ± 0.63 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.59 ± 0.28 on 13 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.39 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.98 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye: 8.53 ± 0.25 on 9 reviews ($)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Corn forward indeed, I’m getting a lot of sweet corn syrup to start. Candied fruit aromas – including some dark fruits – but also pears, plums and apricots. Orange citrus. Definitely grainy as well, with classic column-distilled notes. Rye spices show up too, with a bit of ginger. Unfortunately, I also get some artificial sweetener notes and a bit of acetone.

Palate: A surprising amount of rye hits me upfront in the initial palate, a lot more than I expected from the nose. The corn syrup is still there, plus maple syrup, very sweet on the swallow. Buttered popcorn. Has a dry, earthy characteristic – like ginger and dried leaves. Mild, with no real burn. Not a whole lot going on in the mouth, seems like a fairly traditional Wiser’s blend.

Finish: The dried earthy notes and light rye spices dominate. The artificial sweetener note lingers the longest, matched with a slightly tannic oaky bitterness.

It has been a while since I’ve had Wiser’s Deluxe, but this seems a like an amped-up version of it to me – just heavier, with drier rye and earthy notes. This style would be very recognizable to Canadian whisky drinkers – it is probably the most representative example of the classic “Canadian Rye” flavour profile that I’ve come across yet for the Alumni series. Well executed, but not very distinctive (except for those earthy notes). J.P. Wiser’s Triple Rye is similar in style, and benefits from a lack some of the artificial sweetener notes. Crown Royal Reserve could be another good comparable. Sippable neat, it would also do very well as a higher-end mixer.

There are relatively few reviews to date. I recommend you check out the ones from the Toronto Whisky Society and Jason of In Search of Elegance. Mark Bylok also covered this whisky in his recent series overview whisky.buzz podcast. I find the Meta-Critic average score to be appropriate.

 

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny McDonald 9 Year Old

Last up for the inaugural 2018-2019 edition of the NHL Alumni Series whiskies from J.P. Wiser’s is Lanny McDonald – he of the great bushy red handle-bar mustache! Fans of the 1980s-era Calgary Flames will remember Lanny well. A ring-wing forward, he was always a fan favourite (including during his earlier stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1970s).

The composition of this whisky is interesting – it is mainly corn, followed by pot-distilled wheat (a significant amount), and a touch of column-distilled rye. Aged in a combination of standard refill Canadian whisky barrels for the corn and rye distillates, and virgin oak casks for the wheat.

The relatively heavy use of wheat in this whisky is a nod to Lanny McDonald’s youth, having grown up on a farm in Alberta. Apparently, it was also his personal preference among the whiskies he sampled for consideration in this blend. The whisky is 9 years old, which reflects his retired jersey number. Bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

As before, this series is a joint effort where 50% of the profits are provided to the NHL Alumni Association, to support former players in need (i.e., those who didn’t receive the large contracts of the star players). Each bottle retails for a very reasonable ~$45 CAD in most jurisdictions.

I first picked this whisky up in a shop in Calgary, Alberta – as the initial Alumni edition release had a limited geographic distribution to start (reflecting the home province of the dominant team in each player’s career). But the Lanny McDonald whisky is now readily available in Ontario at the LCBO as well, like all the newer releases.

Let’s see how this bottling compares to the rest of the NHL Alumni series whiskies, and other similar wheat-heavy whiskies, in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sitter 10yo: 8.31 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny MacDonald 9yo: 8.46 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6yo: 8.52 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey 7yo: 8.11 ± 0.11 on 2 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 9.01 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)

Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.59 ± 0.28 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain (2017): 8.69 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Eleven Souls Four Grain (2018): 8.85 ± 0.33 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts 19yo 49 Wellington (2019): 8.85 ± 0.40 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.59 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass for this Lanny McDonald namesake whisky:

Nose: Very sweet, with caramel and vanilla (from the barrel char). Corn syrup and maple syrup. Dried apricots. Black licorice (anise). Toasted coconut. Slightly rancid nuts. Shredded wheat. Condensed milk. Bit of acetone.

Palate: Lots of sweet anise, a big hit upfront. Caramel and vanilla. Bubblegum. Cream of wheat. Then dry rye spices, cinnamon and nutmeg especially. Tobacco. Saccharine-like sweetness on the swallow. No real heat, very easy to drink.

Finish: Maple sweetness lingers the longest. Caramel too. Some oaky bitterness comes up at the end (coconut and tobacco again) – but not too bad, and reasonably balanced with the sweet anise throughout.

A sweet whisky overall, but also with a lot of character, in a dry and dusty style. Very easy to drink, and with a different flavour profile than typical – with those strong nutty, tobacco and anise flavours (presumably from the wheat).

Wheat whiskies are hard to do well, in my experience. I haven’t been a fan of most Canadian wheat-heavy whiskeys, but I rather like this one. It is “softer” than a wheated bourbon (likely due to pot still), but also brings in some of the same oaky elements (likely thanks to the virgin oak casks). If you are in the mood for black licorice, this would fit the bill nicely!

There aren’t many reviews of this whisky – check out Chip the RumHowler, Jason of In Search of Elegance, or the Toronto Whisky Society. I find the Meta-Critic average score to be reasonable overall, although I would personally go a point or so higher for this one (i.e., ~8.6). Still widely available at the LCBO in Ontario, and various outlets in Alberta.

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