Tag Archives: 10yo

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, and Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Chip the RumHowler.

But 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: 8.31 ± 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 ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 9.01 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)

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 – a lot more going on than you would usually 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. 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 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 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 a noticeable amount of artificial sweetener notes and 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. It’s not bad by any stretch, but not very distinctive either (except for those dryer, earthy notes). J.P. Wiser’s Triple Rye is similar in style, and benefits from a lack some of the artificial sweetener notes and bitter finish. Crown Royal Reserve could be another good comparable.

I’m afraid this Darryl Sittler whisky is not as interesting for me personally, among the Alumni series bottles released to date. 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. I find the Meta-Critic average score to be appropriate, as this was my lowest scoring entry to date for the Alumni series.

 

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10 Year Old

It comes as no surprise to me that the best selling member of the inaugural batch of NHL Alumni Series whiskies was the Guy Lafleur bottling.

Growing up in Montreal in the 1970s, “The Flower” was a true hockey icon. A right-wing forward with the Montreal Canadiens, his flowing blond locks (he never wore a helmet) and incredibly smooth skating style made him a fan favourite – and a sight to see on ice. As an aside, his middle name, Damien, earned him the french nickname “Le Démon Blond” (i.e., the blond demon). His popularity was guaranteed to ensure an interest in this whisky when it was released.

The defining flavour characteristic of this whisky is “smooth” – it is a 100% corn whisky, aged for 10 years in a combination of ex-Speyside barrels, ex-rum barrels or ex-bourbon barrels. Taken together, these features combine to make this whisky quite sweet overall, and thus likely to appeal to consumers. It is bottled at the industry-standard 40% ABV.

As a reminder, the Alumni whisky series is a joint effort for Wiser’s, 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’m afraid this whisky is currently sold-out everywhere (as of November 2019).

This NHL Alumni series is full of “easter eggs”, or nods, to each player’s individual careers. In this case, the 10-year old age statement is a clear nod to Lafleur’s retired jersey number. And apparently, the roughly 1/3 proportion of the three cask types is an homage to his many hat-tricks with the Canadiens.

Let’s see how the Guy Lafleur whisky fares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, relative to the rest of the Alumni series and some similar style 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 Blender’s Select: 8.57 ± 0.10 on 4 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Bourbon Mash (Blender’s Mash): 8.16 ± 0.63 on 8 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.33 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews($$&)
Pike Creek 21yo Double Barrel Speyside Cask Finish (2017): 8.64 ± 0.36 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet rum and popcorn. Maple syrup and baked apples. Peaches. Green grapes. Rum cake. Reminds me of a cross between a rum and older style of light Canadian whisky. Very slight organic smell – almost a saccharine artificial sweetness.

Palate: Sweet rum and light corn syrup. Maple syrup. Tropical fruits. Light, dry spices (cinnamon and nutmeg) pick up mid-palate. More rum comes up on swallow. Very easy to drink, no burn at all.

Finish: Rum (as always), then dry spices again. Dried fruits. Paper. Slightly saccharine at the very end.

Seriously, you could easily mistake this 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, it is a little too much on the sweet side for me. That said, this bottle was a big hit with my Dad when I gave it to him for Father’s Day.

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 appropriate in this case.

Ben Nevis 10 Year Old (2019)

Ben Nevis is probably not a particularly well-known single malt among younger whisky drinkers (certainly here in North America). The distillery is currently owned by Japanese whisky-maker Nikka, and a lot of Ben Nevis’ production presumably finds its way into blended Nikka whiskies. There have been a number of independent bottlings of Ben Nevis, but official bottlings (OB) are relatively uncommon – beyond the standard 10 year old version reviewed here. And even this bottle can be hard to find, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.

The Nikka connection is interesting. As an unusual quirk of Japanese labeling laws, international spirits can be included in blended Japanese whisky without being identified as such. I don’t know for sure which Nikka bottlings include Ben Nevis distillate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of the Pure Malt range (like White and Black) do, and perhaps even the Premium Blended 12yo.

The standard 10yo OB of Ben Nevis has a bit of a checkered past. It is known to suffer considerable batch variability (perhaps due to the limited availability of stock). In April 2017, the label was redesigned, and I noticed reviews improved considerably from this point on. As such, I now separate reviews pre/post the 2017 packaging redesign.

There’s actually been a bit of buzz in the whisky world lately on Ben Nevis, due to Koloman’s post earlier this year on Whiskybase.com for the limited-release 10yo cask-strength version of this whisky. If he does accurately convey the experience of Ben Nevis’ managing director, it seems like a pretty grim situation for the distillery’s stocks.

Whatever the current situation, I can only assume things have stabilized a bit, given the recent return of the modern 46% ABV 10yo OB to the shelves (in the UK, at any rate). I was happy to come across a bottle from the latest batch in my travels, at Royal Mile Whiskies in London last month. This standard 10yo bottling remains priced at a very affordable £36 (ex-VAT), which is about $60 CAD. That’s quite reasonable for a 10yo single malt nowadays, especially one bottled at 46% ABV. It is not chill-filtered, and I detect no signs of artificial colouring.

Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic database, separated out by the packaging redesign in 2017:

Ben Nevis 10yo (all editions): 8.46 ± 0.52 on 15 reviews ($$)
Ben Nevis 10yo (old label, pre-2017): 8.18 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$)
Ben Nevis 10yo (post-2017): 8.86 ± 0.44 on 7 reviews ($$)

As you can see, the standard deviation of all editions of this whisky is higher than usual. But that reflects version/batch variation much more than it does reviewer variation. When I separate out by the 2017 redesign, you can see a huge difference with the new version being a lot more popular. And all reviewers in my database who have tried multiple batches prefer the post-2017 editions (some hugely so).

And now for a comparison to some similar whiskies. Just for completeness, I’ve added some lightly smokey Nikka whiskies (that may or may not contain Ben Nevis distillate):

Ben Nevis The Maltman 18yo: 8.85 ± 0.18 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Benromach 10yo: 8.66 ± 0.26 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Benromach 10yo Cask Strength (100 proof): 9.03 ± 0.19 on 14 review ($$$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.50 ± 0.25 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (reviews pre-2014): 8.76 ± 0.27 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (reviews 2014-2017): 8.41 ± 0.42 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo Viking Honour (post-2017): 8.52 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Nikka 12yo Premium Blended: 8.54 ± 0.16 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Black: 8.75 ± 0.24 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt White: 8.69 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Royal Lochnagar 12yo: 8.00 ± 0.29 on 15 reviews ($$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.71 ± 0.25 on 22 reviews ($$$$)

Again, I’ll come back to the Ben Nevis 10yo ranking at the end of the review. But first, my tasting notes for this recent 2019 batch:

Nose: Sweet apple juice and light honey initially. Fruity, with pear, red delicious apple and Honeydew melon, plus a touch of apricot. Slightly winey, but not much evidence of sherry (beyond some nuttiness). A lot of buttery caramel notes, like Cracker Jacks. It almost seems a touch medicinal, with a definite flinty note – not exactly smokey, more like a mixture of metal and gunpowder. Nice funkiness, a bit like a sweaty armpit (but in a good way). Reminds me of Benromach, but less smokey. Nice character, the funky bits integrate well.

Palate: Light caramel and apple initially, with some toffee notes. Lemon and orange zest pick up now. Sweetened anise. Some mild smoke and a musty paper note. Bit of tongue tingle, and has a slightly oily mouthfeel (maybe resinous is a better word?). A drop of water helps it open up a bit, with some malted chocolate notes emerging. I recommend you add a little (doesn’t need much).

Finish: Apple juice and light caramel continue. Some bitterness creeps in and builds with time, but it’s not offensive (more like coffee, or dark chocolate). Ultimately sweet enough on the way out, with a light corn syrupiness. The minerality persists throughout, which I like.

I’m glad I picked this bottle up. It’s an old-style Highland malt, and nicer than I was anticipating from the mixed review history. The spirit in this 2019 bottling definitely seems older to me than 10 years, especially given how attenuated the smoke is. If I had to guess, I would say this batch is older stock masquerading in their standard 10yo offering. My bottle is certainly an outstanding value for the class.

Interesting fit with Nikka, as I can some similarity to Yoichi production (which has some similar characteristics, rather complementary). But there are also definite similarities to Benromach, Springbank, and some of the older Glen Garioch (back when they used peated malt, pre-1995). I will definitely be keeping my eye out for other Ben Nevis bottlings now.

Among reviewers, the 2018 bottling did very well, with high marks from My Annoying Opinions and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. Ralfy gave it a positive review too, although with a lower score than typical. The 2017 bottling got very high marks from Ruben of Whisky Notes and both Serge and Angus of Whisky Fun. Old editions typically got more moderate scores, like from Jim Murray, Thomas of Whisky Saga and Jan of Best Shot Whisky – or really low ones, like from the boys at Quebec Whisky. But the more recent bottlings definitely seem to have much greater favour among reviewers, so I would recommend you consider only the post-2017 Meta-Critic scores.

The Infamous 22 Year Old Blended Malt

Following on my review of an entry-level blended malt (Monkey Shoulder), here is a higher-end offering: the Infamous 22 Year Old.  This is an example of a “mystery malt” – that is, a blended malt where the source distilleries are not identified. I don’t typically do many reviews of mystery malts, but this one has a funny story behind it that piqued my interest. I couldn’t resist picking up a bottle in my travels, given its ridiculously low price and presumed heritage.

This bottling of Scottish malt whiskies comes from Fountana Beverage – an international liquor import/exporter based in Vancouver, Canada. The bottle label explains it is a blend of whiskies from “two of the most notorious single malt distilleries in Scotland,” representing “where the mountain meets the sea” (with a custom logo to that effect). Specifically, the whiskies come from a lightly-peated island malt and a heavily-sherried Highland malt, aged independently and blended in Scotland. I’ve seen some commentary online that the island malt was exclusively from ex-bourbon barrels.

You often get these sorts of tantalizing clues with mystery malts, which are designed to lead those with a bit of knowledge to make an educated guess as to the distilleries involved (whether correctly or not). Privately, the local agent did reveal to vendors in Alberta that those two distilleries are Highland Park and Macallan, respectively. While both are quality big-name malt producers, it would be very unusual to pair their styles together. I’ve seen speculation online that the casks were from batches originally earmarked for either The Famous Grouse or Cutty Sark blends.

Another funny story the local agent revealed: the whisky casks had all passed 23 years of age before bottling. But the bottle labels had already been printed, so they stuck with the Infamous 22 yo name.

Bottled at 50% ABV. This 22 (23?) year old blended malt was only $103 CAD at World of Whisky in Calgary, Alberta. As the label certifies, no artificial colour has been added, and it is not chill-filtered.  While there are no reviews in Meta-Critic Whisky Database, I thought I would pick it up as a Christmas gift to myself this year.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Prominent caramel and brown sugar to start (which surprised me), followed by fruit gummies and some drier sherry fruits. Fruitcake, with red berries and raisins. Mixed nuts. Some lighter floral notes, which are nice. Light spices. There is an underlying sourness, likely from the light peat, but no real smoke per se. No solvent notes, but a bit of ethanol heat consistent with the 50% ABV.

Palate: Caramel, honey and vanilla show up first, presumably from the ex-bourbon casks. Then juicy red grapes and raisins, plus Christmas cake – very nice delayed sherry presentation. Not a lot overt smoke – more of a savoury, charred meat flavour that builds with time. Hint of rosemary. Fresh leather. Very distinctive pairing. It’s almost like drinking the caramelized drippings left in the pan of a pork roast with veggies. Rich mouthfeel, definitely oily. Some slight ethanol sting, consistent with high ABV – but it surprisingly doesn’t need any water.

Finish: Long (although not quite as long as some I’ve had in this age range). A great mix of sweet fruity notes and savoury earth notes, complex. No real bitterness, and a slight hint of smoke appears now. The ex-bourbon sweetness continues the longest, leaving a nice sugary coating on the lips and gums. Probably the closest thing in my experience is one of the aged Macallan Fine Oaks (but with a touch of smoke), or the Highland Park 25 year old (but with extra sherry).

I am surprised at how strongly the ex-bourbon character comes through here, at all levels of the tasting experience. I expected the (Macallan) sherry character to dominate more. The lightly peated malt also plays very much a supporting role – but one that comes across more as meaty instead of smokey/peaty.  Despite not being quite what I expected, I find I really enjoy this one – it’s full of surprises. Personally, I’d score this around ~9.0 on the Meta-Critic average scale.

There are not a lot of reviews of this one out there, but you can also check out criollo_and_barley on Reddit, or the reviewers at Distiller.com. Andrew at Kensington Wine Market also has tasting notes.

Ledaig 10 Year Old

Welcome to a different kind of peated Scotch whisky experience. Ledaig (pronounced le-chaig or le-chick) is not a very well known single malt whisky – even among peated whisky fans. It is produced by Tobermory distillery on the isle of Mull, just north of Islay.

Established in 1798 under the original name Ledaig, Tobermory distillery reserves its original name for just its peated malt whisky line. Their unpeated whiskies are sold under the Tobermory name.

This 10 year old peated whisky is very reasonably priced in most jurisdictions ($70 CAD at the LCBO). It has garnered mixed reviews over the years, and fell below my radar until a bottle appeared at a recent tasting that I was at. I was impressed enough to pick up my own bottle, which I have sampled over many evenings while preparing this review.

The strength of this one is interesting, at 46.3% ABV.  That might sound familiar to you – Bunnahabhain on Islay also bottles all their malts at this level. Not surprisingly, both Tobermory and Bunnahabhain are currently owned by liquor conglomerate Distell, which acquired the whole set from Burn Stewart Distillers in 2013.

Let’s see how it compares to other peated whiskies, and the unpeated Tobermory line:

Ardbeg 10yo: 8.91 ± 0.32 on 25 reviews ($$$)
Benromach 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.26 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 10yo Tempest: 8.80 ± 0.20 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.40 ± 0.27 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.82 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.73 ± 0.18 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.03 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.27 ± 0.44 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig 10yo: 8.85 ± 0.25 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig Quarter Cask: 8.31 ± 0.30 on 24 reviews ($$$$)
Ledaig 10yo: 8.34 ± 0.38 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Ledaig 18yo: 8.65 ± 0.70 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow Peated: 8.79 ± 0.19 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.70 ± 0.24 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank CV: 8.27 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.92 ± 0.17 on 24 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker Storm: 8.59 ± 0.26 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Tobermory 10yo: 8.26 ± 0.43 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Tobermory 15yo: 8.57 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

Ledaig is getting a below-average score from my Meta-Critic panel, in-line with the similarly priced Jura Superstition and Laphroaig Quarter Cask.

Let’s see what I find in the glass.

Nose‎: Smoke and peat, reminds me of slightly charred rubber (like a bike tire that has blown out). Just a touch medicinal, with a definite earthy, vegetal characteristic to the peat. Also has some dried tobacco and hay, which is an interesting mix. Otherwise, lightly sweet with vanilla and caramel. Dried fruits, apple and pear mainly. A bit nutty. It is a pleasant sniffer in the moderately peated family. Water brings up the sweetness and dampens the smoke slightly.

Palate: Smokey of course, but less overtly peaty in the mouth. Sweet caramel and vanilla come through the strongest, along with fudge. Malt and hay again. Green grapes join the dried apples. Typical wood spices pick up next, with cinnamon and some pepper. Some tongue tingle, but otherwise a good oily mouthfeel. It’s nice. Water again bring up the sweetness, and lightens the mouthfeel slightly.

Finish: Medium-long. Interestingly, the tingle from the palate lingers a good while. Mild spice and long-lasting sweetness – although not cloying or artificial. A sea saltiness also emerges over time, which I wasn’t getting before – always nice to find something extra on the finish. Water seems to add a touch of bitterness to the finish.

I’m really impressed with this one, especially for the price. It is one of the cheapest age-stated peated bottlings where I live, and one you could easily overlook in your search for the big names. But that would be a mistake – there is more here than I expected. Personally, I would recommend you drink this one neat – water mainly heightens the sweetness, which is prominent enough in my view.

While it is not likely to fully satisfy an Arbeg or Laphroaig enthusiast, the Ledaig 10 year old is a good alternative for peat fans craving something a bit different. I’ve seen one reviewer refer to the peat characteristic here as “muddled”, and there is some truth to that – it is pretty unique in my experience. But I like it, and I’m not typically a big peat head. I’m surprised it doesn’t score higher in my Meta-Critic Database.

For reviews of this whisky, Savannah of the Whiskey Wash is very positive, as is Patrick of Quebec Whisky. Moderately positive are Ralfy, Serge of Whisky Fun, John of Whisky Advocate and Martin of Quebec Whisky. Some of the lowest scores come from Thomas of Whisky Saga, Oliver of Dramming, Andre and RV at Quebec Whisky and Nathan the Scotch Noob.

Whistlepig 10 Year Old Rye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley

I have sampled plenty of Irish single pot still whiskies, where a mix of malted and unmalted barley is distilled together (in a copper pot still). But this is a first for me – a 100% unmalted barley whisky.

Typically, malted barley is used in whisky production, where the malting process activates native enzymes, breaking down long-chain starch molecules into more easily digestable sugars (necessary for yeast to work their magic in creating ethanol).  Unmalted barley can be added into the mash (as in the case of Irish whiskies) to introduce some “green” (aka tropical) fruits flavours. Interesting, this was originally a tax dodge used in the production of Irish whiskies, but is enjoying a particular resurgence today in the hands of Middleton.

But back to the topic at hand. This whisky is part of the Masterson’s family of whiskies produced by 35 Maple Street in the US – but actually made by Alberta Distillers in Canada. Which explains a few things, as Alberta distillers makes their own enzymes for unmalted whiskies (which is necessary here). I have previously reviewed Masterson’s 100% straight rye whisky (which is similarly unmalted) – the signature product from this producer.

As I understand it, the original spirit used in Masterson’s Straight Barley was distilled in a beer column still, then re-distilled in a stainless steel pot still (which is a bit of a different process). Sold as a “straight” whisky in the U.S., it must have been barreled and aged in virgin American Oak.

Here are how the various Masterson’s whiskies compare in my Whisky Database, relative to Irish pot still whiskies and North American malt whiskies.

Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.88 ± 0.41 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Barley 10yo: 8.58 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)

Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.18 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.60 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.44 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Single Malt: 8.03 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo Single Malt: 8.08 ± 0.62 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 15yo Single Malt: 8.53 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Parker’s Heritage 9th 8yo Malt Whiskey: 8.41 ± 0.55 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel Single Malt (All Casks): 8.27 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Single Malt: 8.47 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Westland American Single Malt: 8.57 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.34 on 16 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.78 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

First thing you will notice is that the standard deviation of scores on the Masterson’s Straight Barley is higher than usual, which is always an interesting signal.

My sample comes from Jason Hambrey of In Search of Elegance, and was from the first batch bottled in 2014.

Bottled at 46% ABV, with 10 year old age statement. Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Golden apple juice.

Nose: Incredibly herbal – reminds me more of some gins that I’ve tried than whisky. Not woody exactly – more plant-like (bamboo maybe?). Mint. Dill. Very earthy, with moist earth notes and cedar chips. All kinds of exotic spices, like cardamon, caraway seeds, anise – and tons more that I can’t identify. Baking spices too, but much beyond the all-spice level. All-dressed bagels (Montrealers will know what I mean). Some caramel. Fruit compose, with stewed apples.  This is an unbelievable nose – I’ve never come across a whisky like this before.

Palate: Caramel and vanilla initially. Sweet and soft in the mouth (like mineralized soft water). Same exotic spice notes from the nose return at the end, along with the baking spices and a heady rush of spearmint and menthol. Rye bread. Pepper. Earthy, with peanut shells. Yowza, this is a unique whisky! And it tastes much like it smells. Doesn’t need any water (although it ups the caramel sweetness slightly if you do). Easily drinkable at 46% ABV.

Finish: Long and lingering, with many of the earlier notes making a reappearance over time. A bit musty. Ends with the earthy herbal notes, dill weed and spearmint in particular. A bit anesthetizing on the tongue (flavour fatigue perhaps?).

I will definitely be keeping an eye out to see if this ever comes back – what are an incredible herbal rush! Seems more like some sort of natural product medicine than a whisky.  Mackmyra First Edition was the first thing that really brought in some noticeable herbal notes for me (more juniper in that case) – but this is completely over the top in comparison.  A tough one to score, I would personally give it in the high eights – incredibly complex, and not a gentle sipper by any means. May be too much character frankly, but it is always a treat to come across a quality product that is so unlike anything else on the market.

And again, why is Alberta Distillers not releasing these sorts of products into the local market? It blows away anything they produce under the Alberta Premium/Alberta Springs brand.

For further reviews of this whisky, it is really a love it or hate it proposition. Davin of Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Andre of Quebec Whisky all love it. Patrick of Quebec Whisky, Chip the Rum Howler and Jake of Whiskey Reviewer would all take a pass on this one.  Personally, I’m in the first camp with the fans. This expression is not currently available, but if you ever get the chance to try it, I recommend you go for it (but wouldn’t suggest picking up a bottle without tasting it first, given the polarizing views).

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Rye

Masterson’s 10 year old rye whisky is distilled in Canada by Alberta Distillers, for 35 Maple Street in California. A similar arrangement exists with Whistlepig in Vermont – although in that case, Whistlepig does extra cask finishing of the Alberta Distillers whisky. As far as I know, 35 Maple Street simply selects the casks it wants from Alberta Distillers, and then bottles them immediately.

35 Maple Street has a long history in the California wine industry. The Masterson’s name comes from Bat Masterson, a larger-than-life adventurer of the American old west  – and one who, like this whisky, was born in Canada (and inspired a certain amount of controversy). You can read more about the history of this whisky at CanadianWhisky.org.

Ironically, coming from an American producer, it actually has to be imported back into the Canada to be sold here. That said, the LCBO website correctly identifies the country of origin of this whisky as Canada (while citing 35 Maple Street as the producer).  I couldn’t help but notice that all the bottles on the shelf at my local LCBO have a blacked-out statement on them (contrast enhanced to reveal on the right).

I won’t belabour the point, but a lot of commentators (on both sides of the border) don’t particularly like the lack of clarity around country of origin in how this whisky is presented by 35 Maple St. The LCBO magic marker solution is novel, though. 😉

Like with Canadian Club 100% Rye (also made by Alberta Distillers) and Lot 40, Masterson’s 10 yo is a straight 100% unmalted rye whisky. This means that enzymes have to be added to help break down the rye starch into sugar for fermentation.  A common enough practice in Canada (especially for Alberta Distillers, who produce their own enzymes).

In keeping with the U.S. “straight” designation, the whisky used for the Masterson’s brand is matured in virgin charred oak barrels – giving it a bolder taste than what you normally find in most Canadian rye whiskies. It is bottled at 45% ABV (also unusual for Canada).  It currently sells for $105 CAD at the LCBO – which makes it one of the most expensive Canadian ryes (although that again is probably due in part to the re-importation issue).

Here is how it compares to other Canadian rye whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Alberta Premium: 8.22 ± 0.58 on 11 reviews ($)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.61 ± 0.37 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.33 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.99 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel: 8.61 ± 0.42 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary: 8.76 ± 0.50 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.58 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (all batches): 8.77 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s Finest 18yo: 9.03 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.40 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.86 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$)
Masterson’s Straight Barley: 10yo 8.58 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.88 ± 0.41 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.85 ± 0.43 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig The Boss Hog (all batches): 8.82 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)

As you can see, Masterson’s 10yo rye gets a very high score for this class.

My bottle is from the recent batch 015. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very woody nose, with tons of oak. Lots of fruit, with bananas, peaches, apricots – and even pineapple. The rye has a sweet and light floral element to it, like cherry blossoms (I’m also getting some raspberry now). The sweetness is almost candied in fact. There is vanilla of course, and something dry, like seasoned tobacco or tannic tea. Pepper. Faint solvent note, more like toluene than the typical acetone. Very rich and deep rye nose, it’s a pleasure to keep coming back to it.

Palate: It is all sweet honey, vanilla and caramel up front. Then tons of zingy spice hit you – with hot cinnamon and all spice, mixed with pepper. It packs quite a kick, and has that candied cinnamon sensation of Swedish fish (which I like). The fruity and floral elements re-enter and linger afterwards. Interestingly, both black and red licorice make an appearance. A vague earthiness also shows up, with that tobacco note again. Good mouthfeel, leaves you wanting more.

Finish: Very long (for a Canadian rye whisky). Pepper and cinnamon lead off, but then fade as the sweet fruits and some brown sugar come in.  The tobacco note lingers throughout, with some definite leather now. Frankly, there are a lot of the palate notes coming and going during the finish on this one – very tasty, and surprisingly complex.

I can see why this a top-ranked whisky in my database – it is a very impressive presentation. The virgin oak cask aging in particular is really adding to the character here. Is it worth the retail price here in Canada (as an imported product)?  Perhaps not, but I am happy to have my bottle. Like many here though, I wish Alberta Distillers would release quality products like this directly into the home market.

Most reviewers of this whisky are extremely positive, such as Jason of In Search of Elegance, Davin of Canadian Whisky, Jim Murray, and S.D. of Whiskey Reviewer. More moderately positive are Geoffrey and John of Whisky Advocate and Josh the Whiskey Jug. The least positive review I’ve seen comes from Chip the Rum Howler (and a number of reviewers on Reddit). Mark Bylok of Whsky Buzz explores the various batches of Masteron’s. Sadly, batch 015 doesn’t score as well as most of the others in his assessment (making wonder what I might have missed out on by not buying a bottle sooner).

Arran Malt 10 Year Old

Arran Malt is produced by the Isle of Arran (Arr-en) distillery. Located in the Lochranza village at the northern end of Arran island, this distillery is just over 20 years old.  But don’t let the apparent young age fool you – Arran actually has a long history of whisky making.

In the 19th century, there are believed to have been several dozen whisky producers on the island.  The remote location helped shield their operations from the watchful eye of excise tax agents, and it was apparently not uncommon to refer to “taking the Arran waters” as synonymous with having a glass of whisky in Scotland’s major cities. Eventually, as whisky production became more mainstream (and consistently taxed), the high cost of operation caused whisky producers to shut down on the island.

The modern Arran Malt single malt whisky is very much in the style of the previous production on the island. The base spirit is relatively gentle, creating a soft and light taste – as exemplified by the base 10 and 14 year old expressions. These are finished in a mix of American oak ex-bourbon barrels and first-fill/refill European oak sherry casks. There are also some newer longer-aged expressions available (e.g., 17 and 18 yo). Thoughtfully, Arran expressions are typically bottled at 46% ABV or higher, and are not chill-filtered.

These sorts of light whiskies lend themselves well to cask finishing, and Arran is also well known for one of the widest sets of wine cask-finished malts available (see below for some examples from my database). I will be reviewing a few of these other expressions in upcoming reviews.

For those on even more of a budget, Arran also produces a number of similarly light, entry-level, no-age-statement (NAS) expressions (like Lochranza and Robert Burns). There are even a few lightly peated editions (Machrie Moor and the Devil’s Punchbowl).

Before jumping into the base 10 yo expression, let’s see how the Arran Malts do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Arran Malt 10yo: 8.50 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 12yo Cask Strength: 8.63 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 14yo: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 17yo: 8.84 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 18yo: 8.92 ± 0.14 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish: 8.78 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Lochranza Reserve: 7.93 ± 0.67 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Arran Machrie Moor Peated: 7.88 ± 0.59 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Madeira Wine Cask: 8.62 ± 0.44 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Orkney Bere Barley: 8.80 ± 0.32 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.58 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns: 8.29 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt Sauternes Finish: 8.52 ± 0.33 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Sherry Cask Finish: 8.29 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt The Devil’s Punch Bowl (all chapters): 8.87 ± 0.30 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)

And now compared to some similarly light malts, in the reasonable $$-$$$$ price class:

AnCnoc 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo: 8.41 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.08 ± 0.47 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Deanston Virgin Oak: 8.13 ± 0.47 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.34 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Glen Moray 12yo: 7.99 ± 0.28 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glengoyne 10yo: 8.21 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Glenkinchie 12yo: 8.25 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie 10yo: 8.47 ± 0.47 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Hazelburn 8yo: 8.39 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Knockando 12yo: 7.91 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$)
Speyburn 10yo: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)

I know those are a lot of numbers, but the up-shot is that Arran is, in general terms, one of the higher ranking examples of the light flavour class (i.e., supercluster G-H). Not bad for a relatively young distillery.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the 10yo expression. My sample comes from Redditor wuhantang.

Nose: Sweet and malty, with light honey notes. Light fruits as well, mainly green apple,  pear and plum. A bit citrusy. Some caramel. Grassy and a touch floral. Very slight solvent note (glue), which is consistent with the young age – but less offensive than usual. A nice nose overall, very easy-going.

Palate: Very malty again, with Arrowroot biscuits. Sweetened (green) apple juice. Caramel notes pick up further now, and take over from the light honey. Some mild spices pick up too, nutmeg and a touch of cinnamon. Surprisingly watery for 46% ABV, with a very light mouthfeel. Ok, but not overly interesting.

Arran.Malt.10Finish: Medium-short. Oaky bitterness comes up quickly, intermingled with some of the sweet fruit notes. Honestly, reminds me a bit of some of the inexpensive Canadian blends which have similar issues.

My experience of this tasting was going fairly well, up until the finish.  If it weren’t for that quickly emerging bitterness, I would have rated this one consistent with the Meta-Critic average. But as it is, I would personally have to drop it down a couple of points (i.e., 8.3).  The AnCnoc 12 yo is probably a better choice for similar cost, and the slightly more expensive Dalwhinnie 15 yo is definitely a step up in my books. But the Arran 10 yo is still a very decent option in its price class, scoring higher than a number of well-known malts.

Ralfy, Michael of Diving for Pearls, Nathan the Scotch Noob, and the guys at Quebec Whisky are generally all very positive on this expression (although I’m more in line with Martin). John of Whisky Advocate gives it a relatively low score (but that is an earlier version).

 

 

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