Bulleit (pronounced like the projectile) is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, owned by the international drinks conglomerate Diageo.
Self-identified as a “high-rye” whiskey, it has a relatively higher rye content in the mash bill compared to most bourbons (about twice the typical level). This gives it a spicier and earthier flavour profile. I don’t see an official age statement, but there are reports online of it being aged for at least six years. Note there is also an older age-statement version available, the Bulleit 10 year old bourbon.
The standard no-age-statement Bulleit seems to be something of a staple in bars for the high-rye class of bourbons (just like Buffalo Trace for a low-rye bourbon, Rittenhouse for a straight rye, and Maker’s Mark for a wheater). Its low cost and high rye content – both particularly well-suited to cocktails – are likely a good part of the reason.
Note that despite the “Frontier Whiskey” moniker, Bulleit is a rather new operation. Until just recently, they didn’t even have their own distillery – this bourbon is made under contract by Four Roses Distillery (edit: that may no longer be the case, see discussion here). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Four Roses has a good reputation. Bulleit also publishes the full mash bill specs for this bourbon (68% corn, 28% rye, 4% malted barley). It is bottled at a decent 45% ABV.
Here is how it compares to other bourbons of similar price in my Meta-Critic Database (and the other Bulleit products):
1792 Small Batch Bourbon: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$)
Buffalo Trace Bourbon: 8.58 ± 0.41 on 19 reviews ($$)
Bulleit Rye: 8.29 ± 0.63 on 16 reviews ($$)
Bulleit 10yo Bourbon: 8.56 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$) Bulleit Bourbon: 8.38 ± 0.37 on 21 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 21 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.71 ± 0.24 on 15 reviews ($$)
Four Roses Bourbon (Yellow Label): 8.21 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($)
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon: 8.70 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon: 8.48 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$)
George Dickel No.12: 8.26 ± 0.45 on 15 reviews ($$)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo Bourbon: 8.61 ± 0.40 on 21 reviews ($$)
Old Forester: 8.11 ± 0.43 on 11 reviews ($$)
Old Forester Signature (100 Proof): 8.36 ± 0.40 on 8 reviews ($$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon (80/86 Proof): 8.04 ± 0.51 on 10 reviews ($$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon 100 BiB: 8.37 ± 0.54 on 9 reviews ($$)
Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10yo Bourbon: 8.54 ± 0.29 on 14 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon: 8.46 ± 0.43 on 18 reviews ($$)
Woodford Reserve bourbon: 8.40 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
As you can see, standard Bulleit bourbon does reasonably well for this class and price point. As an aside, the bourbon drinkers on Reddit have put up a good beginners and intermediate guide to understanding bourbon styles – I recommend you check it out, to see how the various bourbon options above compare.
I recently picked up a sample bottle of standard Bulleit during my travels in the U.S (shown on the right). As a nice touch, the glass bottle actually has the same type of raised lettering as the full-size bottles, with a lot code printed on the back. A nice touch!
Here’s what I find in the glass:
Nose: Sweet, and no mistaking this is a high rye bourbon, with all the baking spices. Lots of caramel, brown sugar and vanilla up front. Relatively fruity for a bourbon, with orange (citrus) but also banana, apple, and plums (different mix than usual). This fruitiness reminds me a bit of a Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel I once tried, reinforcing that rye whisky connection. Oak barrel char. Some acetone mars the finish (acetone often goes hand-in-hand with excessive fruitiness, I find). Better than I expected overall.
Palate: Caramel and vanilla again. Woodier than the nose would have suggested. Same general fruitiness as the nose. The spices pick up a little bit – but more in terms of pepper and light spices (e.g. nutmeg), not the typical heavy rye spices. Ok mouthfeel, not too watery. A bit of mouth pucker once you swallow (i.e., astringent). Some oaky bitterness creeps in at the end – or is that citrus again?
Finish: Shortish. Dry bitterness is the main characteristic that holds the longest, along with the light spices and some initial light sweetness. This is its weakest feature, honestly.
This is a decent high rye bourbon. It was doing particularly well on the nose and initial palate, but couldn’t really hold it together very well on the way out. As such, I would personally give it a score very much in keeping with the Meta-Critic average presented above (i.e., slightly below average for the class). But that still represents good value for money at this price point. I can see why it is a popular pour.
Knob Creek is one of the premium bourbon brands put out by American whisky maker Jim Beam. It is aged longer than most bourbons (currently stated as 9 years on the label), and is bottled at a higher proof (50% ABV).
Supposedly, the spirit for Knob Creek comes off the stills at a lower proof than standard Jim Beam, thus retaining a little bit more spirit character (i.e., the esters and congeners that give whisky its core characteristics). See my Source of Whisky’s Flavour page for a detailed discussion of how wood barrel aging turns this into finished whisky.
It is also an example of a typical “low rye” bourbon – although there is no universally-agreed level for what proportion of rye in a mashbill qualifies as such (and most makers don’t publish exact levels anyway). Nevertheless, most enthusiasts would place Knob Creek in same relatively low-rye category as the other Jim Beam brands, Elijah Craig, Evan Williams and the main mashbill used by Buffalo Trace/Eagle Rare/Stagg, etc. This is in contrast to bourbons which have a higher amount of rye flavouring, like Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, Woodford, 1792, etc.
Let’s see how Knob Creek compares to other low-rye mashbill bourbons in my Meta-Critic database:
Baker’s: 7yo 8.79 ± 0.29 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Basil Hayden’s: 8.38 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Booker’s Small Batch: 8.88 ± 0.29 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Buffalo Trace: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.71 ± 0.23 on 15 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams BiB (White label): 8.32 ± 0.53 on 9 reviews ($)
Evan Williams (Black Label): 8.18 ± 0.40 on 14 reviews ($)
Henry McKenna: 8.07 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($)
Henry McKenna 10yo Single Barrel BiB: 8.89 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Black Label: 8.21 ± 0.42 on 15 reviews ($)
Jim Beam Devil’s Cut: 8.05 ± 0.51 on 16 reviews ($) Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.61 ± 0.40 on 21 reviews ($$)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve: 8.80 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Stagg Jr (all batches): 8.57 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Standard Knob Creek gets a good score for the price in this class of bourbons.
I recently sampled this from a 50mL sample bottle while on my travels in the US (glass bottle, shown on the right). A nice miniature scale reproduction of the larger bottle, right down to the engraved lot code on the back (which are rare to see on miniatures).
Colour: Red delicious apple juice
Nose: Classic bourbon nose, though not too strong. Woody (oaky), with caramel and vanilla notes, plus pancake syrup. Earthy. A bit of cherry (which I often get on bourbons). Light rye spices (nutmeg mainly). Melted butter. Touch of acetone at the end, but subtle. A sweeter and fuller-body version of Basil Hayden’s comes to mind.
Palate: Classic bourbon presentation again, with caramel and vanilla to the fore. No real fruits to speak of. Nutty (peanuts in particular, which I gather is a Jim Beam hallmark). Tobacco leaf and a touch of dark chocolate. Pepper joins the nutmeg (plus some cinnamon too now). Chewy texture, with a bit more kick than typical (thanks to 50% ABV). Pretty decent bourbon, with a good range of straightforward flavours.
Finish: Medium. Toasty, with wood spice and some vanilla. There’s a slight sourness here – its also dry, with a mild mouth-puckering astringency at the end.
Surprisingly easy to drink neat, despite the slightly sour/dry aspect. Quite a respectable bourbon, especially for the price. I would put it on par with Elijah Craig in terms of quality, although it is perhaps a touch less flavourful. Personally, I still prefer the Buffalo Trace/Eagle Rare/Stagg juice (the latter two are under-rated in the Meta-Critic database, in my view).
Given its quality – and bonafides described earlier – Knob Creek is a good choice for both sipping neat and in mixed drinks.
As with last year, I am breaking this up by price point, style and flavour cluster. I will again focus on highly-ranked but relatively affordable bottles – and ones currently in stock at the LCBO. I am also going to focus on whiskies that are not necessarily available all year round – some of these only show up for a limited time around the holidays, so grab them while you can. Links to full reviews given, when available.
Hopefully this list is also relevant to those outside of Ontario, as it is based on high-ranking whiskies. As always, the Meta-Critic Whisky Database is here to help you sort through whatever possible options are open to you.
Budget Gifts < $50 CAD – American Bourbon and Canadian Rye Whiskies
You won’t find single malts in this price range (although there are some very nice Scotch-style and Irish blends, profiled below). But let’s consider the economical American bourbon and Canadian whiskies options here first.
While Ontario is not a good place to find higher-end American bourbons, we actually do have very decent prices on what we do get in. And we have at least a reasonable selection of the more entry-level and lower mid-range stuff.
It’s worth breaking bourbons down into different mashbill classes. The first is low-rye bourbons (i.e., a relatively low proportion of rye grain in the predominantly corn-based mashbill). Unfortunately, one of my favourites in this class – Eagle Rare 10 Year Old – is not currently available (although you might still find a few bottles at the some of the larger LCBO stores). So the closest thing is the more widely available Buffalo Trace at $43 CAD, getting a decent 8.56 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews. This is basically the same juice, though not quite the full 10 years of age.
A great choice that Ontario still carries is the Elijah Craig 12 Year Old at $48 (8.68 ± 0.29 on 20 reviews). This has been replaced by a younger no-age-statement “small batch” version in U.S. Note the 12yo version has a fairly pronounced “oaky” character.
Rated even higher is Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve ($57, 8.79 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews) – a popular cask-strength (60%) option.
For high-rye bourbons (which typically are more “spicy” tasting), you can’t go wrong with Four Roses Single Barrel at $46 CAD (8.72 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews). It’s worth the premium over the otherwise decent Four Roses Small Batch at $40 CAD (8.49 ± 0.44 on 19 reviews). Unfortunately, most of the other high-ryes I would recommend are currently out of stock (and unlikely to come back this year).
But why not try a quality Canadian choice? These are typically widely available all year round.
Sure, you could go for Jim Murray’s “World Whisky of the Year” for 2015 – Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye – for $35 CAD. It gets a decent Meta-Critic score of 8.59 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews. But like many, I consider it to be only an “average” Canadian rye.
As with last year, my top pick as the king of Canadian straight rye whisky is Corby’s Lot 40. Getting an excellent 8.90 ± 0.41 on 18 reviews, it is quite affordable at $40 CAD. One of the best aromas you will find in the rye selection at the LCBO.
Wiser’s Legacy is another solid choice, with an even higher 9.01 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews. Regularly-priced at $50 CAD, it has a spicy rye flavour (and is said to consist of Lot 40 in part).
As always, Alberta Premium Dark Horse at $32 CAD is a great buy – if you like a little sherry flavour in your rye. 8.62 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews.
Budget Gifts < $60 CAD – Scotch and Irish Blends
I don’t typically break down Scotch-style blends by flavour profile (as I do for for the more complex single malts below). But you can generally think of blends in two categories: those with some smokey/peaty flavours and those without.
For those who like a bit of smoke, Johnnie Walker Black at $57 (8.27 ± 0.49 on 21 reviews) remains a staple – and for good reason. It is higher ranked than most of the other smokey blends – but it is also priced higher. So if you want try something a little different on a budget, the LCBO also carries the higher-ranked but lower-priced Té Bheag for only $39 (8.47 ± 0.31 on 14 reviews). Pronounced chey-vek, this whisky has a more fruity character than JW Black, and even more smoke (if you think the recipient would like that). Another great choice is Great King St Glasgow Blend for $57 (8.57 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews) – one of the highest-ranked smokey blends I’ve seen.
For non-smokey blends, these are often imbibed as mixed drinks, or the classic scotch-and-soda. There are a lot very good blends out that you may not have heard of – unfortunately, the LCBO is not carrying many at the moment. For example, they are currently out of stock of Great King St Artist’s Blend for $55 (8.58 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews), which would have been a top pick. So why not try a great Irish blend instead: Writer’s Tears for $50 (8.47 ± 0.37 on 14 reviews). Unusual for an Irish whiskey, this is a blend of single malt whisky and classic Irish pot still whisky (which is a mix of malted and unmalted barley in a single copper pot still). Very flavourful, and a good value.
A personal favourite of mine in this group is Suntory Toki at $60 CAD (8.24 ± 0.63 on 5 reviews). I feel the quality here is higher than the Meta-Critic score indicates (which is based on only a limited number of reviews so far). It is delightfully fresh and clean, easy to sip neat, and is highly recommended in the classic Japanese “highball” (scotch-and-soda for the rest of us ;). Here is a chance for you to experience an authentic Japanese whisky, without the usual high cost. It’s a great introduction to the lighter Japanese style.
There is a lot more to consider here – especially for those on a tighter budget – so I suggest you explore the Whisky Database in more detail.
Premium Gifts up ~$100 CAD – Single Malt Scotch and International Whiskies
Single malts come in a wide range of flavours – much more so than any other class of whisky. As usual, it is worth recommending single malt whiskies by flavour “super-cluster”, as described on my Flavour Map page. I’m going to start with the more delicate examples below, followed by the more “winey” and “smokey” examples.
BTW, If you are interested in checking out another Japaenese whisky, consider the Hibiki Harmony at $100 (8.40 ± 0.61 on 14 reviews). It comes in a fancy decanter-style bottle, and has a richer yet still delicate flavour profile. Again, I think the Meta-Critic Score is unfairly harsh here – this is a lovely blend, and is a more flavourful expression than the Suntory Toki described previously.
Now onto the single malts …
Super-cluster G-H: Light and sweet, apéritif-style – with honey, floral, fruity and malty notes, sometimes spicy, but rarely smokey. Classic examples: Glenmorangie 10yo, Glenfiddich 12yo, Arran Malt 10yo/14yo, Cardhu 12yo
At $95 CAD, the Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old is my top pick in this category (8.68 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews). That is a phenomenal score for this flavour supercluster (i.e., delicate whiskies always score lower than winey/smokey ones). The Dalwhinnnie is a fairly delicate whisky, but there is a surprising amount of subtlety here. It has a lovely honey sweetness to it (but is not too sweet), and has just the slightest hint of smoke in the background. Well worth a try – a staple of my liquor cabinet.
Backup choices you may want to consider are The Arran Malt 10 Year Old at $70 CAD (8.55 ± 0.33 on 20 reviews), and the An Cnoc 12 Year Old at $80 CAD (8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews). The Dalwhinnie is worth the slight extra though, in my opinion.
Super-cluster E-F : Medium-bodied, medium sweet – with fruity, honey, malty and winey notes, with some smoky and spicy notes on occasion Classic examples: Old Pulteney 12yo, Auchentoshan 12yo, Glenlivet 12yo, Macallan 10yo Fine Oak
It is actually on border of Super-cluster E-F and cluster I (due to the moderate smoke), but my top pick here is Amrut Fusion, from India. At only $86 CAD, and scoring an amazing 8.90 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews, this is certainly an excellent choice. It’s also an opportunity for those looking to explore some extra “tropical” fruit flavours in their whisky – check out my full review above for more info on this whisky. Note that this one is very popular, and so stock levels are already starting to drop across the LCBO.
Otherwise, my top mid-range choice in this category is an Irish whiskey, the $80 CAD Redbreast 12 Year Old. Redbreast is a single pot still whiskey. As mentioned earlier, this is a traditional Irish style, where both unmalted and malted barley are distilled together in single copper pot still. The end result is thus closer to a Scottish single malt than a blend. It gets a very good 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews.
If you are looking for a budget option in this class, check out the Auchentoshan 12 Year Old. At $65 CAD and scoring 8.27± 0.26 on 21 reviews, this is a step up from your typical ubiquitous Glenfiddich/Glenlivet 12yo.
Super-cluster A-B-C : Strong winey flavours, full-bodied, very sweet, pronounced sherry – with fruity, floral, nutty, honey and spicy notes, as well as malty and sometimes smokey notes Classic examples: Aberlour A’Bunadh, Highland Park 18, Glenfarclas 105, GlenDronach 12yo, Auchentoshan Three Wood
My top pick here remains the Aberlour A’Bunadh. I don’t understand how this has remained at $100 CAD, given the quality of the various batches. It gets an impressive 8.95 ± 0.17 on 22 reviews overall. While there is some variability between batches, this is not usually significant. Note however that this is a cask-strength whisky, so it packs a higher concentration of alcohol than typical. And inventory tends to disappear fast around this time of year – it’s a popular one.
My budget choice, at $73 CAD, remains the GlenDronach 12 Year Old. It gets a very respectable 8.57 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews. It packs a lot of flavour.
Now, let’s dial back down the winey flavours, and instead bring up the smokey complexity.
Cluster I : Medium-bodied, medium-sweet, smoky – with some medicinal notes and spicy, fruity and nutty notes Classic examples: Talisker 10yo, Highland Park 12yo, Benromach 10yo, Springbank 10yo, Bowmore 10yo
In addition to the Amrut Fusion already mentioned above, you would do well to stick with a classic member of this class: the Talisker 10 Year Old. At $100, it gets an excellent 8.91 ± 0.17 on 21 reviews. I don’t think you can go wrong with this choice. Also very nice, but with low availability is Longrow Peated ($101, scoring 8.79 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews). It is right on the border with the smokier Cluster J, though.
A reasonable budget choice – especially if you like a little sherry in your smoky malt – is the Highland Park 10 Year Old ($65, 8.47 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews) or 12 Year Old ($80, 8.38 ± 0.36 on 12 reviews). Unfortunately, quality seems to have dropped in recent batches of the 12yo, otherwise this one would have been a a top pick (i.e., it used to score higher).
Cluster J : Full-bodied, dry, very smoky, pungent – with medicinal notes and some spicy, malty and fruity notes possible Classic examples: Lagavulin 16yo, Laphroaig 10yo and Quarter Cask, Ardbeg 10y and Uigeadail
For the smoke/peat fan, you really can’t top the value proposition of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask – only $73 CAD, yet garnering a very high meta-critic score of 9.02 ± 0.27 on 21 reviews. That’s a remarkable score for the price, if you are into these peat bombs.
Surprisingly, it’s even cheaper than the standard Laphroaig 10 Year Old expression ($84 CAD, 8.92 ± 0.29 on 14 reviews). The Ardbeg 10 Year Old is another consideration for an entry-level expression ($100 CAD, 8.95 ± 0.34 on 21 reviews). If you like a wine-finish, for a very limited time you can order a bottle of this year’s Laphroaig Cairdeas for $100 (2016 Madeira edition, 8.82± 0.48 on 8 reviews) through LCBO online.
Of course, there is a lot more to consider if you are willing to go a bit higher. Stretching the budget a bit to $123 CAD, a very popular favourite is the Lagavulin 16 Year Old. It gets an incredible meta-critic score of 9.23 ± 0.23 on 25 reviews. Full of a wide array of rich flavours, I find it a lot more interesting than the younger peat-bombs above. Just be prepared to smell like a talking ash-tray for the rest of the evening!
Again, whatever you choose to get, I strongly suggest you use the Whisky Database to see how it compares to other options in its respective flavour class or style.
Among enthusiasts, W.L. Weller 12 Years has long been considered the “poor man’s Pappy”. That is, until the general public also started seeing it that way. Here’s a recent depressing chart from Diving for Pearls, showing how the U.S. after-market price of W.L. Weller 12 has increased almost 10-fold in the last two years.
It’s pretty wild to see a $26 USD bourbon climb into the stratosphere so quickly. But keep in mind, the after-market price of Van Winkle 12 Year Lot B is more than 3 times higher than W.L. Weller 12 yo, at current levels.
As discussed in my Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old review, the Weller and Van Winkle brands share the same basic DNA. They are produced by the same distiller, share the exact same “wheated” mashbill, are aged in the same manner in the same warehouses, and are diluted to the same final proof. And in this particular case, they are also aged the same amount of time – to a minimum of 12 years.
So the difference here comes down to just barrel selection – the premium barrels from the best parts of the warehouse get blended into Van Winkle 12 Year Lot B each year, and the rest becomes Weller 12. You would therefore naturally assume that these are not very different (and hence, the incredible run-up in Weller 12 prices in recent years given the current Pappy craze).
But keep in mind barrel selection can make quite a difference – just look at how single cask offerings compare to standard vatted products. Removing all those premium barrels could in theory impoverish the remaining “failed Pappy” vatting of Weller 12 significantly. Does it? Let’s take a look at the current Meta-Critic average scores for these whiskies in my Whisky Database:
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.66 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$) W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.86 ± 0.25 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.19 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.05 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+) Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.76 ± 0.18 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15yo: 9.28 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20yo: 9.20 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Unlike the Old Rip 10 and OWA comparison (where the Van Winkle expression gets a higher average score), there doesn’t seem to be much of a score difference between W.L. Weller 12 yo and Van Winkle 12 yo. Indeed, the Weller 12 is actually scoring higher on average. But keep in mind there are still relatively few reviews of the hard-to-find Van Winkle 12 (and so, these numbers could change as more reviews come in).
Having recently reviewed the Old Weller Antique 107 Proof (OWA), I thought it would be useful to frame my Weller 12 tasting notes in that context. Again, while all these products share a common mashbill, OWA is much younger (estimated to be 6-7 years old), and bottled at 53.5% ABV – compared to Weller 12 yo at 45% ABV. As Weller 12 has spent about twice as long in oak barrels, it should pack a different flavour profile.
My sample was supplied Reddit member Lasidar. Let’s see what I find in the glass:
Nose: Not as sweet as Old Weller Antique 107 (OWA), with more caramel and less vanilla. More dark fruits, like cherry but also blackberry. Not quite as creamy, but it does have more wood spice and some definite leather now (which I like). These presumably reflect its extended time in contact with the oak. I’m not getting any solvent notes – that extra time in the barrel must also have helped those blow off.
Palate: Caramel of course, but more refined than the OWA (with less ethanol burn, naturally). Strong fruit presence coming through, along with wood spices and baking spices, plus a bit of pepper. Seems less like a dessert whisky now, with a richer range of woody flavours. A bit drying as well. Weller 12 definitely tastes its age – a sipper to ponder over.
Finish: Medium-Long. First up are the wood spices, then returning to the caramel, and finally the different fruit flavours (like above, but I’m also getting some pear now). These seem to come and go with time, often returning to the caramel backbone. Dryer than I would have expected (i.e., more astringent).
Definitely a more complex whisky than the Old Weller Antique 107. The Weller 12 is more drying than I expected, and with less sweetness than typical for a wheater. It is also a lot more oaky (as expected).
W.L. Weller 12 seems like a whisky for slow contemplation, compared to the instant gratification of the higher proof and younger OWA. I recommend you try the Weller 12 neat, and take your time to let it open up in the glass. Assuming you can still find it at a reasonable price somewhere, that is.
Interestingly, due to the differing profiles, some people like to blend Weller 12 and Old Weller Antique for the ultimate “poor man’s Pappy”. Specifically, a 60:40 blend of OWA:Weller 12 has been proposed online. Here’s what I find when I blended a portion of my samples at this ratio (left to marry in the bottle for several weeks before trying):
Nose: Closer to the OWA profile, but with only the faintest hint of the solvent. Seems like a good balance in-between the two, but I wish more of the Weller 12’s spicey notes would show through. Some extra brown sugar.
Palate: Sweet, with lots of honey and caramel. A bit hot, it seems more like the OWA initially. The Weller 12 helps bring up the spiciness at the mid-point (but without the astringency). If you are not a fan of the dry, oaky palate of the Weller 12, this may be your best choice of the three.
Finish: Not to sound like a broken record, but again this fits in-between. Doesn’t seem to have quite as much variety or complexity as the straight-up Weller 12, but it lacks its drying finish.
So, is the sum of the parts really greater than the individual components? The answer depends on how you feel about OWA compared to Weller 12.
For OWA fans who find Weller 12 too dry and oaky, this blend does indeed outperform each member individually. You get to keep a lot of the brasher in-your-face characteristics of OWA, but complimented with additional spicy flavour elements from the Weller 12 (especially mid-palate). I can see those who rate OWA higher than Weller 12 could well prefer this blend above either alone.
But for those who prefer the more complex Weller 12 over the youthful exuberance of OWA, the blend is likely to be seen as diluting the best aspects of Weller 12. As my tasting notes above show, the blend really is intermediate between the two. If (like me), you would rank Weller 12 above OWA, then the blend falls somewhere in-between.
I recommend you check out my OWA review for additional commentary. For the Weller 12, the highest-ranked review I’ve seen comes from Josh the Whiskey Jug. More typical reviews come from Nathan the Scotch Noob, Jason of In Search of Elegance/Whisky Won, and Jim Murray. The lowest score I’ve seen is probably from Michael of Diving for Pearls.
Finding any of the Van Winkle bourbons in the wild these days is almost like spotting a unicorn. But given my recent review of the Old Weller Antique (OWA), I thought I should give you a direct comparison to what is essentially the same whisky – the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year old.
As I pointed out in that earlier OWA review, these two Buffalo Trace brands share the same basic DNA – the only real difference is the age and barrel selection. Otherwise, they are produced by the same distiller, share the same mashbill, are aged in the same manner in the same warehouses, and are diluted to the same final proof.
It is commonly believed that distillers know the “sweet spot” (or “honey holes”) in their rickhouses, where conditions are believed to be ideal to produce the best whiskies (i.e., not too hot, not too cold, etc.). So the suggestion is that they let these selected barrels age for a full 10 years for each year’s batch of the Old Rip Van Winkle – while blending the rest at a younger age (estimated to be ~6-7 years) for OWA.
While this means the Old Rip Van Winkle should be a higher quality product, the difference is not likely to be so great as to justify the huge price mark-up on Van Winkles (due to the insane demand).
Let’s see how the main Weller and Van Winkle bourbon lines compare in the Meta-Critic Whisky Database:
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.87 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.18 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.06 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.77 ± 0.17 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15yo: 9.28 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20yo: 9.21 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ok, OWA vs ORVW is the one case where the critics consistently seem to prefer the Van Winkle product to the Weller, by a noticeable margin. Let’s see if I find the same thing. 😉
My Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo sample was provided by the Redditor Jolarbear. For my tasting notes below, I am also comparing this bourbon to the W.L. Weller 12 Year Old (which I will describe in an upcoming review).
Colour: The ORVW seems a touch darker than my bottle of OWA, or my sample of Weller 12.
Nose: As expected, ORVW is closer overall to the OWA than the Weller 12, with more up-front honey and caramel sweetness. But it also has some dark fruits too – I’m getting dark plums, raisins and cherries. A bit of tartness (Sweet Tart candies come to mind) and red licorice as well. Baking spices and a hint of chocolate. Unfortunately, a faint hint of solvent too, which is disappointing. But more complex than I was expecting, based on OWA.
Palate: I would say that this is closer to the Weller 12 here, but with an extra touch of sweetness – and with more vanilla than caramel. A good amount of character and spice, with lots of leather, wood spice, baking spices, and pepper – much more than exhibited by any of the Wellers (which is odd). Tons of cinnamon in particular, which I am a fan of. Good juicy mouthfeel. It doesn’t seem like a 53.5% ABV whisky, as there is relatively little alcohol burn here. This is a nice palate – definitely my favourite of the three going down the hatch.
Finish: Long and lingering, with that cinnamon spice continuing right until the end. It is like slowly melting cinnamon red-hots (or more accurately, those hard Swedish fish-shaped cinnamon candies I remember from my childhood).
There is no contest here – I greatly prefer the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 over my bottle of Old Weller Antique (or my sample of the W.L. Weller 12). The sweet and spicy kick of the ORVW is right up my alley. I think the average Meta-Critic score for this whisky is spot on, and the lower score for the OWA is, if anything, actually a bit generous. Of course, since Old Rip Van Winkle is virtually impossible to find, you may need to settle for the otherwise decent Old Weller Antique.
For similarly positive reviews of Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo, I suggest you check out Josh the Whiskey Jug and André of Quebec Whisky. Jim Murray gives it a very decent score, as do most of the reviewers on Reddit – check out for example LetThereBeR0ck and Texacer. Slightly more moderate reviews would include those from t8ke and HawkI84.
The Weller line of wheated bourbons are extremely popular these days, thanks in part to their close relation to the infamous Van Winkle family of bourbons.
Bourbon is mandated by law to be at least 51% corn in the mashbill. Rye grain is the most common secondary ingredient in most bourbons, for flavouring. But Weller and the Van Winkles are examples of “wheaters”, where wheat is used as the main flavouring component. This tends to bring in a softer, more creamy sweetness and fruitness, compared to the “spicier” rye flavours.
Both the Weller and Van Winkle brands were originally owned by Stitzel-Weller, and both are currently owned Sazerac (produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery). There are four varieties of Weller: Special Reserve, Antique 107, 12 Year Old, and William Larue Weller. I’ll talk more about the Van Winkles in an upcoming review, but I thought I would start off this series with a review of Old Weller Antique Original 107 Proof.
Old Weller Antique (OWA) is essentially the same thing as their entry-level Special Reserve – except that it is bottled at a higher proof (107, or 53.5% ABV). Both of these bourbons used to carry an age statement – they no longer do, but they are still believed to be ~6-7 years old. OWA is not quite as widely available as Special Reserve, but it is not as hard to find as the rest of the line (a discussion for another review).
While on the topic, OWA should be pretty comparable in style to the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo. The only difference is the age and barrel selection – otherwise, it is the same mashbill, distilled and aged in the same manner (and location), and cut to the same 107 proof. I’ll be reviewing that Van Winkle in an upcoming review.
Let’s see how OWA compares to other Wellers (and younger Van Winkles) in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:
W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.49 0.36 10 reviews ($) Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.87 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.18 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.04 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.77 ± 0.16 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
It gets a respectable score for this family, intermediate to the Weller Special Reserve and 12 yo, as you might expect.
Now, let’s see how OWA compares to other entry-level bourbons:
Ancient Age: 7.64 ± 0.64 on 6 reviews ($)
Buffalo Trace: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews ($$)
Bulleit Bourbon: 8.37 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams (Black Label): 8.15 ± 0.44 on 14 reviews ($)
Four Roses (Yellow Label): 8.21 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($)
Four Roses Small Batch: 8.49 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Black Label: 8.22 ± 0.43 on 15 reviews ($)
Jim Beam White Label: 7.62 ± 0.51 on 17 reviews ($)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.60 ± 0.41 on 20 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark: 8.24 ± 0.43 on 22 reviews ($$) Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
Rebel Yell: 7.44 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($)
Very Old Barton: 8.44 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 81: 8.12 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 101: 8.48 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: 8.74 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
OWA gets one of the best scores for its price class. If you can find it at the standard price, it would seem to be an excellent choice.
Let’s see what I find in the glass:
Nose: Sweet, like vanilla icing on a caramel cake. Light honey with hints of marzipan and whipped cream. Cherry. A bit of nutmeg. Unfortunately, it also has a general solvent smell which detracts for me. This likely reflects its young age.
Palate: Caramel comes first, followed by an extreme honey sweetness, which then fades back to that caramel after a few seconds. Fruits come next, mainly dark berries and some prunes and plums. Oak is in the background here. Has a silky texture (I’d say almost velvety). This is a hot one (ethanol heat), consistent with its 53.5% ABV – although it can still be drunk neat easily enough.
Finish: Medium. Oak comes through now, as well as some slow, lingering fruit. Brown sugar sweetness shows up now too.
Consistent with its reported 6-7 years, this is not a particularly complex bourbon. You are not getting a lot of oak here (beyond the usual caramel/vanilla), nor are you getting much in the way of the typical rye baking spices (as expected).
But for a fairly standard profile, it is done well. I often find wheaters a bit too sweet for me, with an almost artificial tinge. But there is at least none of that here – the sweetness is like all-natural honey, sprinkled with brown sugar.
It seems like an excellent value for the price. And given the higher proof, would likely be great in mixed drinks. For me personally, the solvent aromas bring it down a peg, and so I would score it just a bit lower than the Meta-Critic average.
For reviews of this bourbon, Josh of the Whiskey Jug is a big fan, as is Jim Murray. Most of the bourbon reviewers on the Reddit Whisky Network are similarly very positive (see for example Texacer and LetThereBeR0ck). There is also Eric of Breaking Bourbon. You don’t come across many negative reviews of this bourbon, but guys at Quebec Whisky are bit more moderate than those above.
I’m a late entry on the Canadian whisky scene for these whiskies. Like my review of the Collingwood 21 yo, these two reviews come about as a result of recent “mystery swaps” that I have done with other whisky enthusiasts on the whisky network of Reddit.
This is a fun challenge whereby you hone your whisky sensory analysis skills by tasting (and reviewing) whiskies “blind”. In this case, I had two mystery samples from redditor 89Justin, with no indication as to what was in the bottles (no info on country, style, ABV, etc.). See my full reviews there to see how well I did in my guesses for these two whiskies.
Unlike the Collingwood experience, you can actually still buy these two 66 Gilead whiskies – but probably not for much longer. They were recently marked down to $40 CAD for clearance at the LCBO, so you may need to hunt around to find a local store that still carries them.
Based in the Prince Edward County region of Ontario, 66 Gilead could best be described as a craft distiller. With their close association to wine makers in the area, they have had the ability to experiment with some interesting barrel finishes. Their two signature whiskies are the Crimson Oak (finished in red wine casks, mainly pinot noir, and made up of 100% unmalted rye) and Wild Oak (done “bourbon-style”, matured in new charred oak casks with a custom mashbill of 51% corn, followed by rye, wheat and peated barley, in that order). I don’t know the exact age of the whiskies, but they are both believed to be young (i.e., I’ve seen 3.5 to 4.5 year old estimates online). Both are bottled at an impressive 47% ABV.
They don’t score particularly highly for Canadian whiskies – here is how they compare to other Canadian “craft-like” whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:
66 Gilead Crimson Rye: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($$) 66 Gilead The Wild Oak: 7.99 ± 0.58 on 5 reviews ($$)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.63 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Rockies 21 yo: 9.04 ± 0.29 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Danfield’s 21 yo: 8.61 ± 0.56 on 12 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Evolution: 8.85 ± 0.65 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.80 ± 0.39 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony: 8.26 ± 0.59 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Glen Breton Ice 10yo: 8.24 ± 0.63 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton Rare 10yo: 8.06 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.64 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.89 ± 0.29 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10 yo: 8.22 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($$)
Below are my tasting notes.
66 Gilead Crimson Oak
Colour: Slightly rose-tinted, dark orange/red-brown
Nose: Very fruit sweet with rich grape, raisins, plums, prunes, pears and apricot notes. I initially guessed port-finished, as this is fruitier than a typical sherry-finish. Dry, dusty rye baking spices, with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. Gingerbread baking in the oven. Not really malty, but some cereal (grape nuts comes to mind). No off notes, but hard to tell under all that fruity sweetness.
Palate: Heavy spicy kick, with lots of rye spice and pepper. Same fruitiness as the nose, with maybe a bit of citrus (judging from the mouth pucker). Raw and extreme on first sip, seems youthful. Definitely very hot. Recommend small sips, letting it mix with saliva. A bit of bitterness on the finish.
Finish: Fairly long lasting, due to the spicy kick and heat. A bit oaky. Some artificial sweetness creeps in over time, unfortunately. Cinnamon lasts until the end (cinnamon red hots in particular).
A bit two-dimensional, with searing hot spice/pepper and heavy grape-like sweetness. Those two dimensions really dominate. While simple, I kind of like it – it is certainly bold (and thus likely too hot for most people). A bit like an amped-up version of Alberta Premium Dark Horse, but with even more sweet fruit and spicy rye kick.
Not sure if I could recommend it to most, but I personally would rank it a bit higher than the consensus Meta-Critic score for my personal palate.
66 Gilead Wild Oak
Colour: Typical light gold
Nose: Sweet, with light fruits, like pear and apple – also citrus (grapefruit). Some rye spices. Very woody. A bit of solvent smell, mixed with old sweat socks. Not as bad as it sounds, but not very distinctive either.
Palate: Not really detecting a lot of fruit. Rye spices are most prominent, mainly cinnamon and cloves. Tons of vanilla, and bit of caramel as well. Definitely oaky. Slight bitterness hiding under the sweetness (which quickly veers into the artificial sweetener realm, unfortunately). Good spicy kick to it. Somewhat watery mouthfeel for 47% ABV.
Finish: Medium short. Not really that much of interest going on. Seemed to me originally like a light, young, entry-level Canadian whisky, but with some added spice and heavy oak presence. Unfortunately, the oaky bitterness lingers the longest.
There is a lot heat on this one too – both alcohol burn and rye spice (although it is not as searingly spicy hot as the Crimson Rye). Unfortunately, I don’t find much else going on here. Ironically, it seems both under-aged (i.e., young, with raw distillate notes) and over-oaked (from the bitterness and woody flavours). Maybe a cask preparation issue?
Not quite sure what would need to be done to improve this, but I really can’t recommend it in its current form. I find the Meta-critic score to be reasonable.
Definitely an interesting experience to try these two whiskies blind as to the contents. I’m intrigued enough by the Crimson Rye to consider picking up a bottle at the LCBO. But be forewarned if you considering buying it un-tasted – you better really like wine-based fruit flavours and cinnamon red hots!
Generally positive reviews for these two whiskies come from Davin of Whisky Advocate. Jason of Whisky Won is also generally supportive of the Crimson Rye, less so for the Wild Oak. The guys at Quebec Whisky were not enthused about either (although again gave Crimson Oak a better score). The redditor muaddib99 has the most positive reviews I’ve seen online for both the Crimson Rye and Wild Oak.
Stagg Jr is the name given to a younger version of the infamous George T. Stagg, a high-end offering of the Buffalo Trace distillery. George T. Stagg is part of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) release, and very hard to come by in the wild. Stagg Jr was apparently developed to increase the availability of this amped-up style of cask-strength bourbon.
Sharing a common mashbill with its big brother, Stagg Jr does not have an official age statement – although it believed to be aged for ~8-9 years (instead of the >15 years of George T. Stagg). Unfiltered and bottled at cask strength, Stagg Jr is released in small batches with some variability in final proof (so far, all within ~128-135 proof, or ~64-67.5% ABV). Typically, there have been two releases a year since its launch in the Fall of 2013.
My sample is from batch 3, released in the Fall of 2014, and is bottled at 66.05% ABV. This batch is often pointed to as the start of the better batches – the initial two releases were widely panned by reviewers, and dismissed as being too “alcohol forward.” See the the recent community review on Reddit for a range of opinions on how the various batches measure up (now up to batch 6).
While I track all batches on my Meta-Critic Database, I don’t report on them individually due to insufficient data on most releases. But since reviewer scores turned decidedly more positive on batch 3 (and have remained so), I have grouped them into batches 1-2 and batches 3-6 for the database. Here’s how Stagg Jr compares to some of the other Buffalo Trace offerings:
Buffalo Trace: 8.56 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 17yo: 8.81 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
George T Stagg: 9.21 ± 0.27 on 18 reviews ($$$$$+) Stagg Jr (batches 1-2): 8.44 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (batches 3-6): 8.85 ± 0.20 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
An interesting finding here is that the original batches of Stagg Jr actually got lower scores than the standard Eagle Rare 10 or entry-level Buffalo Trace. Ouch! The later batches are more in line with Eagle Rare 17 yo (which is a premium BTAC release, like George T. Stagg), although keep in mind there are relatively few reviews. Unfortunately, it seems like the early batches so turned off reviewers that few of them have come back to sample newer batches produced in the last two years.
Here is how the Stagg Jr batches compare to other similarly priced bourbons, including other cask-strength offerings:
Baker’s 7yo: 8.79 ± 0.31 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Booker’s Small Batch: 8.92 ± 0.25 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Colonel EH Taylor Barrel Proof: 8.80 ± 0.24 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Elijah Craig 12yo Barrel Proof: 8.86 ± 0.26 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Four Roses Single Barrel: 8.72 ± 0.36 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve: 8.80 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: 8.71 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel: 8.77 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($$$$) Stagg Jr (batches 1-2): 8.44 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (batches 3-6): 8.85 ± 0.20 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
The average scores for recent batches of Stagg Jr are certainly well in keeping with other cask-strength bourbons of comparable price.
My batch 3 sample of Stagg Jr was obtained from the Redditor Jolarbear. When these bottles show up at the LCBO (a rarity), they currently go for ~$85 CAN.
Here is what I find in the glass:
Nose: Sweet with dark fruits, like raisins and prunes. Woodsy and earthy, think rich and moist black earth. Herbal quality (pine? cedar?), that turns into black licorice over time. Chocolatey. Reminds me of amped-up Eagle Rare/Buffalo Trace juice (which of course, it is). Singes the nose hairs a bit, consistent with the high ABV. Water just dampens everything though – I prefer to sniff it neat (best to let it sit in the glass for awhile first, though).
Palate: The dark earth and fruit odyssey leads off, with leather, tobacco, prunes, raisins, cherries and chocolate. Also vanilla and a bit of caramel. The cinnamon and allspice soon kick in, along with a bit of pepper and some woody bitterness – but it is not that spicy overall. Somewhat syrupy in texture, I recommend you hold it awhile in you mouth (to let it mix with your saliva before swallowing). You really feel the burn of the ~66% ABV here. Frankly, a bit too hot to drink neat, even with small sips, as there is a lingering ethanol burn. A bit of water really helps tame the burn, and brings up a touch more fruitiness. But don’t go crazy with the water – very quickly, it can start to feel dulled.
Finish: Very long, with lots of oaky bitterness and vanilla carrying you through. Hints of the dark fruits persist, along with that cinnamon. Small amounts of water have no effect here that I can discern. This a powerful finish – much more so than the regular Buffalo Trace/Eagle Rare.
Although I am not a big bourbon guy, I do like the relative composition of the Buffalo Trace Juice. If I were to have a “table bourbon”, it would be Eagle Rare 10 yo. So I quite enjoyed my batch 3 of Stagg Jr, with its amped set of familiar flavours. I don’t have a lot of experience of cask-strength bourbons, but I’m looking forward to trying more out after this one.
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.
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 ($$$$)
Again, you can’t really say much from only 4 reviews. But it does seem like Last Barrels is trending around the level of the standard-bearer Lot 40. Here is how it compares to typical American bourbon whiskies in this price range.
Baker’s 7yo: 8.79 ± 0.31 on 15 reviews ($$$)
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 ($$$)
Certainly a good performer for the price so far, consistent with other bourbons available at the LCBO.
Following up on my inaugural bourbon review (Elijah Craig 12yo), I thought I’d take a look at another low rye mashbill American whisky – the Eagle Rare 10yo Single Barrel.
This whisky is basically just the standard Buffalo Trace juice – but hand-selected from individual barrels at one of the Buffalo Trace rick houses. It is also aged for a minimum of 10 years, which is a couple of years longer than the standard Buffalo Trace. The end result is a slightly more flavour-intense version of the popular Buffalo Trace – and one that will be more variable from batch to batch. Not necessarily a bad deal for only an extra ~$5-7 USD more a bottle, typically. Note that both are bottled at a standard 45% ABV.
As an aside, there is some variation in bottle labeling over time. Specifically, the “Single Barrel” designation was recently dropped, and the location of the 10 year old age statement was moved to the back. It has been suggested that while Eagle Rare 10yo is still bottled one barrel at a time, they can no longer guarantee that it contains juice from only a single barrel. Note that my sample comes from 89justin on Reddit, from a bottle that looks just like the one currently featured on the LCBO website (and shown here).
I personally am a fan of rye-forward Canadian whiskies, but when it comes to bourbon, I tend to gravitate to some of the lower rye offerings (like Eagle Rare). For some reason, I find the Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace low rye mashbills still produce a spicy rye kick that nicely complements the traditional corn sweetness and oaky woodiness of bourbon. In comparison, some high rye bourbons can strike me as a bit unbalanced.
Let’s see how Eagle Rare 10yo does relative to other mid-range, low rye mashbill bourbons:
Buffalo Trace Bourbon: 8.58 ± 0.46 on 17 reviews ($$) Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.73 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams Black Label: 8.23 ± 0.46 on 11 reviews ($)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.79 ± 0.29 on 12 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Black Label: 8.22 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.64 ± 0.44 on 18 reviews ($$)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve: 8.88 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$)
The average Meta-Critic score for Eagle Rare 10yo is not statistically significantly different from the standard Buffalo Trace. However, the comparably priced Heaven Hill offerings (Elijah Craig 12yo and Evan Williams Single Barrel) seem to be favoured slightly by reviewers.
Here’s what I find in the glass for my sample:
Nose: Rich nose, with lots going on here. I get vanilla and caramel from the oak (of course), along with dark red fruits (berries, cherries, raisins, red plums). Sweet and creamy, with a strong corn syrup aroma. Spicy too, but not in an overtly rye way. A bit minty. Touch of tobacco. A nice nose, even more potent than my Elijah Craig 12yo.
Palate: Sweet and juicy fruits up front, packed full of flavours. I get honey, brown sugar and cinnamon mixed together. Peppery and spicy, but still with a silky mouth feel. Strong alcohol kick, which builds as you sip – and will make your eyes water if you hold it in your mouth long enough! Woodiness comes in more toward the end. A touch of anise. A bold and flavourful expression, but not overly complex.
Finish: Medium long. This is what I imagine the lingering effects of caramel-coated cinnamon red-hots would feel like (if such a thing existed). The corn sweetness is there, and it persists through the finish, along with the cinnamon rye notes.
This is a nice example of a low rye mashbill bourbon, in my view. I warrant that I am not a big bourbon guy, but I would personally pick this batch of the Eagle Rare 10yo over my bottle of the Elijah Craigh 12yo. Of course, batch variation is expected to be greater on the Eagle Rare. Either way, I think these are both examples of good mid-range bourbons.
A splash of water or a little ice (if that is your preference) may help tame the burn from the 45% ABV. I tend to find most bourbons fairly potent, so a few drops can be helpful. But it should also make an excellent base for Manhattans or Old Fashioneds.
For some reviews of this whisky, Nathan the Scotch Noob is quite a fan. Nathan of Whisky Won was less impressed with his particular sample. And here is an interesting head-to-head comparison of two batches from Michael of Diving for Pearls. My own middle-of-the-road assessment is pretty close to that of Oliver from Dramming.