Tag Archives: 14yo

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!

Bunnahabhain 14 Year Old 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish

This is a limited edition bottling from Bunnahabhain – a Scottish distillery, located on the north-east coast of Islay. Their standard 18 year old bottling is one of my favourites for the style – which, surprisingly for Islay, is unpeated. But the coastal environment helps brings in some unique features, which combine well with Bunnahabhain signature oily, flavourful character.

Bunnahabhain releases limited editions somewhat irregularly – the last was an Oloroso cask finish in 2016, I believe. This release is a 14 year old single malt, distilled in 2003. It was initially aged in second-fill Oloroso sherry casks until 2011, at which point it was transferred into first-fill Pedro Ximénez casks. It was bottled in late 2017 at cask-strength, 54.3% ABV in this case.

Only 6768 bottles were produced, released in most jurisdictions in early 2018. I was lucky to come across the release of a single case at World of Whiskies in Calgary, Alberta in late March of this year – and promptly picked up two bottles for $180 CAD each, on discount ($200 list price, tax in). As you can imagine, these sold out fast! I’ve recently opened bottle #2389.

Here is how this limited release compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database to other Bunnas:

Bunnahabhain 12yo: 8.66 ± 0.26 on 24 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain 14yo 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish: 8.91 ± 0.74 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 8.98 ± 0.20 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 25yo: 8.88 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bunnahabhain 40yo: 9.14 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.79 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona: 8.31 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Darach Ur: 8.40 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine: 8.44 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Moine (all bottlings): 8.64 ± 0.60 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Stiuireadair: 8.44 ± 0.37 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Toiteach: 8.58 ± 0.37 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

In terms of average score, it compares pretty well to the standard age-stated line of Bunnahabhain. But that’s a noticeably higher-than-usual standard deviation, indicating some pretty variable opinions on this one. Let’s see how it compares to some similar cask-strength sherry bombs:

Aberlour A’Bunadh (all batches): 8.95 ± 0.15 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain 14yo 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish: 8.91 ± 0.74 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (all batches): 8.92 ± 0.15 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfarclas 105: 8.72 ± 0.35 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne Cask Strength (all batches): 8.64 ± 0.46 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan Cask Strength: 8.94 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan Classic Cut: 8.78 ± 0.19 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)

This Bunnahabhain Limited Release scores comparably to the best cask-strength offerings of competitors.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Rich, dark gold with some light mahogany hues.

Nose: PX sherry dominates on the nose – this is a super sweet one. Molasses, caramel. Red fruits, dark berries, raisins and red grapes. Lemon cake. Candy cane. Faint hint of anise. Nutty. Classic Bunna funk (like an extinguished campfire). Sea salt. Fabulous nose if you like them sweet. No off notes.

Palate: Dark brown sugar, demerara sugar. Thick and syrupy. Caramel and red berries again. Cherry compote pie filling – complete with the buttery pastry shell as well. Chocolate shavings. Cinnamon. Oaky wood. Tobacco and coffee grinds. Goes down smooth. Slight astringency on the swallow.

Finish: Medium long. Candy-like notes are the most prominent, with brown sugar and caramel that linger (very chocolate bar-like). Light cinnamon. Sticky residue on lips and gums. Lemon returns, as does the nuttiness at the end.

With water, brown sugar now becomes very apparent on the nose. Fruits are enhanced in the mouth, which I appreciate – so I definitely recommend a few drops. But further water brings up the cinnamon and oaky notes (with some bitterness), and lightens the mouthfeel, so be careful here.

To call this a dessert dram is an understatement – it is a heavy assault of liquefied brown sugar! Personally, I prefer it over some of the batched sherry bombs that contain a mix of Oloroso/PX cask-aged whiskies, like the recent Glendronach Cask Strength batches.

Among reviewers, my stable of Reddit reviewers were generally extremely positive, giving it top scores – starting with theslicknick6, followed by MajorHop, HawkI84, Unclimbability, Strasse007 and WildOscar66. A below average score was given by throwboats (and a few others on the site). There aren’t many other reviews out there, but it gets a slightly above average score from Ruben of Whisky Notes and Gavin of Whisky Advocate. It gets an extremely low score from My Annoying Opinions (which frankly seems a bit bizarre).

Clearly, this is a whisky with some variable perspectives. Personally, I’m more in-line with Strasse007 and WildOscar66 above – I think this is a very nice whisky for this class. I think the Meta-Critic average is fair, especially relative to the Bunnahabhain 18 yo. I’m glad to have a bottle (and a spare) of this limited release.

Oban 14 Year Old

Oban 14 year old is one of those classic single malts that everyone should try (in my view).

Oban is a Scottish distillery owned by whisky and drinks giant Diageo. It is located in the west coast port and fishing village of Oban. It was established in 1794 – even before the town of the same name, which sprung up later around it. It is an unusually small distillery for Scotland, as it has only only two pot stills – and relatively tiny ones at that.

Oban produces an unusual style of whisky, something of a hybrid between the dry, smokey style of the Scottish islands, and the lighter, sweeter malts of the Highlands. Diageo credits this to the relatively long fermentation process, and slow condensation – which happens in wooden worm tubs outside the distillery rooftops, exposed to the salted sea air.

The 14 year old expression has long been their standard release, along with an annual Distillers Edition and a few limited release longer-age versions. A couple of years ago, they released Oban Little Bay, a no-age-statement (NAS) expression likely intended to take some of the pressure off the age-stated line. But like many enthusiasts, Oban 14 yo was one of the first Scottish single malts that I had tried (after the ubiquitous Glenlivet and Glenfiddich expressions, of course). I tried it a few times again recently in my travels, for the purposes of this review.

Bottled at 43% ABV. Sold at a rather steep $110 CAD at the LCBO (but I’ve seen it for less in my travels).

Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.64 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Glenkinchie 12yo: 8.24 ± 0.23 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.10 ± 0.22 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.27 ± 0.45 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Kilchoman 100% Islay (all editions): 8.73 ± 0.23 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kilchoman Machir Bay (all vintages): 8.78 ± 0.22 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.51 ± 0.39 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.72 ± 0.19 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 21yo: 9.02 ± 0.24 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Oban Distillers Edition (all vintages): 8.71 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Oban Little Bay: 8.40 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Old Pulteney 12yo: 8.44 ± 0.25 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Old Pulteney Navigator: 8.35 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.70 ± 0.24 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank CV: 8.27 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.23 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker Skye: 8.43 ± 0.28 on 12 reviews ($$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very honeyed, with some salted caramel notes. Apple, pear, green grapes and a few light berries. Touch of grapefruit. It is also unmistakably peated, with a fairly sweet peat aroma. Fresh smoke and a faint smell of old sweatsock (which is oddly pleasant). Freshly cut hay and field flowers. A bit more wood influence than Dalwhinnie 15yo, which is similarly honeyed and light (but less smokey). No real off notes, and even the ethanol seems subdued here. Very fresh and clean is how it comes across, almost delicate.

Palate: Honey remains the dominant note. Vanilla and that salted caramel again. Similar citrus note as the nose. Cereal and malt, with a baked goods character. Some wood spice, in the form of nutmeg and light cinnamon. No real smoke here, but it is slightly funky on the swallow (which is common enough on lightly peated malts). Mouthfeel is decent, with a slightly oily character. Easy drinking, though not as sweet as Dalwhinnie.

Finish: Fairly light and short. Light caramel and a bit of apple juice persist, along with a touch of that smokey funk. Really not much going on here, it’s a pretty gentle lead out. Perhaps a few of the oak spices persist, if you search for them.

Oban 14 whisky bottleFor me, the nose is the best part of this whisky, as it brings together all the Highland and coastal elements quite nicely. It is fine in the mouth, with decent character and moderate complexity – but perhaps still a bit on the simple side. The finish is disappointingly short and relatively plain.

An excellent introduction to single malts for newcomers to whisky. I would personally rate this whisky a little higher than the Meta-Critic average (and comparable to the Dalwhinnie 15yo at ~8.65).

Among reviewers, Nathan the Scotch Noob, Michael of Diving for Peals and Margarett of Whiskey Wash all give this expression top scores. It also does well with Ruben of Whisky Notes, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun. But it also garners a number of relatively low scores, including of Dave of Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance, Ralfy and Thomas of Whisky Saga. The lowest score I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray.

Worth seeking out if you haven’t tried it – or are a fan of more delicate single malts generally.

J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels

Here is something you don’t see every day: a limited small-batch release from a major Canadian producer, with a defined age statement, higher proof ABV, and a completely different production method than what is typically done in Canada. Thank you J.P. Wiser.

Last Barrels is the result of an experiment performed by former Wiser’s distiller Jim Stanski in early 2001 – and one that Wiser’s has now decided to bottle on its own as a limited run (instead of blending into a larger mainstream product).

The first novelty here is the use of a custom mashbill. Typically, most Canadian whisky is a blend where the individual grains are distilled separately and then later combined. Here, Wiser’s has used the traditional American method for bourbon production of blending the grains before mashing them. They are also using a very traditional bourbon-like mashbill of 80% corn, 11% rye and 9% barley (although this recipe supposedly relates to one J.P. Wiser experimented with himself).

The other innovation is the introduction of a sour mash process here. Sour mash is used in the production of nearly all bourbon, but is typically not used in Canada. Normally, it involves using left-over spent material from an older batch of mash to start controlled fermentation in the new batch (somewhat akin to what you do in making classic sourdough bread). Acids introduced by using the sour mash control the growth of bacteria, and create a proper pH balance for fermentation by the active live yeast.

Since Canada doesn’t use this method (and typically relies on a more sterilized process), Stanski’s innovated with a common sense solution – he let milk out in the lab to go sour, and then harvested the resulting Lactobacillus species. Although not usually done for whisky, it is common to use Lactobacillus as a “starter culture” for controlled fermentation in yogurt, cheese, beer, and sourdough bread, among other things.

The end result is a very boubon-like whisky (albeit one aged in ex-bourbon barrels, rather than new oak). Aged for 14 years and bottled at 45% ABV, this is certainly the most bourbon-like Canadian whisky I’ve tried so far.

Note that only 132 barrels were produced in the end, making this a very limited release. The LCBO bought out all 2000 cases, and has been releasing them across their network over the last couple of weeks.  While initially focusing exclusively on the Greater Toronto Area, I’m starting to see some bottles showing up in inventory further afield (with a little under 800 bottles currently showing through their app).

I picked up a bottle for $65 CAD at a nearby LBCO. I expect these will go fast, so you will want to hunt one down soon if you are intent on trying it. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Caramel upfront, with vanilla. Sweetened Granny Smith apple juice, with maybe a touch of cherry – there is definitely something tart in there. Oak char. Very slight solvent smell (rubbing alcohol?), but it doesn’t really have an alcohol burn. A bit light overall, but definitely bourbon-like (reminds me a bit of Basil Hayden’s, but with less rye).

Palate: Not as sweet as the nose, but you definitely have the vanilla and caramel notes coming through strongly. Fairly intense dry oakiness develops quickly, with significant woody bitterness. Sour patch candies. And tons of pepper – if you take too big of a sip, expect to experience that classic “pepper-up-the-nose” sensation. Feels a bit hot (likely due to the 45% ABV). But it is the peppery after-burn that really stands out for me. Unlike the soft nose, the palate reminds me of some of the classic mid-level bourbons with relatively flavourful bodies (e.g., Elijah Craig 12yo or Eagle Rare 10yo).

Finish: Lingers a fairly long while, with a mix of the slightly sweet fruit and bitter wood initially (more the latter). Fades while keeping some of the spicy pepper and vanilla right to the end. Thankfully, there are absolutely none of those artificially-sweet notes found on typical budget Canadian blends.

Wiser’s has definitely succeeded here in making a “Canadian bourbon”, if you ask me. In a blind tasting, I seriously doubt you would be able to identify this as a Canadian whisky – it tastes like a bourbon, with a fair amount of oaky flavours. It is lighter on the nose than most bourbons, though.

There are very few reviews online so far, but you can check out Davin at Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Redditor Devoz. Here’s a preliminary Meta-Critic comparison to some other similarly-priced Canadian whiskies.

Collingwood 21yo: 8.64 ± 0.43 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.79 ± 0.28 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Reserve: 8.53 ± 0.65 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.80 ± 0.39 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s 18yo: 9.07 ± 0.36 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.65 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$)
Lot 40: 8.92 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.68 ± 0.40 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.87 ± 0.31 on 4 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.05 ± 0.36 on 15 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.92 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)

Wisers.Last.BarrelsAgain, you can’t really say much from only 4 reviews. But it does seem like Last Barrels is trending around the level of the standard-bearer Lot 40. Here is how it compares to typical American bourbon whiskies in this price range.

Baker’s 7yo: 8.79 ± 0.31 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Blanton’s Single Barrel: 8.65 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Basil Hayden’s: 8.40 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Booker’s Small Batch: 8.92 ± 0.27 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Bulleit 10yo: 8.53 ± 0.41 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10yo: 8.56 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.73 ± 0.31 on 19 reviews ($$)
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.72 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$)
Four Roses Single Barrel: 8.72 ± 0.36 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel: 8.51 ± 0.31 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.87 ± 0.31 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve: 8.82 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Maker’s Mark 46: 8.84 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$)

Certainly a good performer for the price so far, consistent with other bourbons available at the LCBO.