Tag Archives: Lot 40

Lot 40 Dark Oak

For the last few years, one of the most anticipated events in the Canadian whisky scene has been the annual Fall release of the special whisky set from Corby known as the Northern Border Collection. Consisting of unique bottlings from each of their major brands (Lot 40, J.P. Wiser’s, Gooderham & Worts, and Pike Creek), this specialty series typically generates a lot of buzz. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Corby announced earlier this year that they wouldn’t be doing a Northern Border Collection for 2020.

However, over the course of the year, they have starred releasing certain select specialty bottlings individually (often with very limited numbers).  The first was the Pike Creek 15 Year Old Finished in Ontario Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels (limited release at the LCBO in August 2020). This was followed in early November with a limited online-only Ontario release of a few cases of their second aged cask-strength blend under the J.P. Wiser’s brand – a 22 year old bottling, finished in Port casks. I missed that one, but a wider release of it is planned “in the new year.”

Now comes the initial release of a special version of Lot 40 known as Dark Oak. Released in BC and online-only in Ontario in late November 2020, it sold out in under 3 minutes (!) at J.P. Wiser’s website (despite being limited to only 2 bottles an order, shipping in Ontario only). Again, a wider release is planned for February 2020.  I was lucky enough to grab one of these first bottles (all personally signed by Dr Don Livermore, as shown below).

This is a no-age-statement (NAS) release, bottled at a slightly increased strength of 48% ABV compared to 43% for regular Lot 40 (but not cask-strength, like the recent Northern Border Collection Lot 40 releases). Like regular Lot 40, this is a 100% rye that is column and then pot distilled, and aged in virgin American oak casks (no. 2 char). This special release has then undergone additional finishing in heavily-charred oak casks (no. 4 char). This should impart greater oaky notes, includes caramel sweetness and wood spice (plus of course, darker colour).

Dr. Don has indicated that he hopes this will eventually become a core release, depending on how well it sells. Sold for $59.95 CAD in BC and Ontario, which is $20 more than standard Lot 40 (which is similarly NAS, but bottled at 43% ABV). However, that is still $30 less than last year’s third cask-strength release (also NAS, finished in French oak).

It is too early to find sufficient reviews of this one online, so here are how the other Lot 40 bottlings out there compare in my Meta-Critic Database.

Lot 40: 8.88 ± 0.36 on 26 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.16 ± 0.10 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (2017): 9.04 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.17 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.80 ± 0.41 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass for Dark Oak:

Colour: Medium tan. Definitely a darker hue than regular Lot 40, more on par with the aged cask-strength releases (or even darker).

Nose: The substrate is clearly classic Lot 40, with its fruity, floral, and baking spice notes (nutmeg and cinnamon in particular). But it is richer here, especially on the spicy side, with cardamom and some cloves. Caramel and creamy vanilla custard. Sour cherries add to the typical lighter fruits (apple and pear). Interestingly, I also get a lot of bubblegum (rare for Lot 40, but present on many other straight ryes). Some actual woody oak. Bit of nose prickle, likely coming from the higher alcohol strength. Still very clean overall, but there is a touch of organic solvent. Water brings up brown sugar (and dill), but deadens the other notes if you add more than a drop or two.

Palate: Heavier brown sugar and caramel than typical Lot 40. Cherries are also more prominent. But it is the heavier spice that really standards out, with dill and chilies added to the typical baking spices (plus cloves again). Strong peppermint note. Very oaky in the mouth as well. Noticeable alcohol zing from the higher strength, combined with the extra spice gives it a real kick. Drying on the swallow. Water lightens the mouthfeel quickly, and just delays the spice attack (i.e., it doesn’t reduce its impact).

Finish: Medium length. Hot chilies and sweet caramel initially, followed by the dill. A lot of woody notes. Bubblegum and cloves return at the end, and it is again drying on the final finish.

This is a different type of Lot 40 release. I found the various cask-strength specialty releases all quite drinkable neat, but this Dark Oak comes out of the gate with a lot more spice and kick. However, adding even a few drops of water sweetens the taste (and lightens the mouthfeel) without actually adding anything or dampening the spice. Indeed, it quickly drowns out the subtle flavours (and may accentuate the dill note), so I recommend drinking it neat, or with no more than a drop or two.

It is certainly an interesting concept, but it takes the already fairly spicy Lot 40 and amps it up to very heavy levels. I would only recommend this release if you like your rye whiskies very spicy. Personally, I prefer the regular lot 40 and the previous cask-strength releases (although it is close in quality to last year’s French-oak finished cask-strength release). To put that in context, and using my own scores (on the Meta-Critic scale), I would personally score and rank them all as follows:

11 Year Old cask strength 2018 (9.3) > 12 Year Old cask strength 2017 (9.2) > regular Lot 40 (9.1) > Third edition cask strength 2019 (8.9) > Lot 40 Dark Oak (8.8).

My ranking here is actually consistent with the overall Meta-Critic scores for these releases, but of course individual tastes vary (e.g., most reviewers who have tried both prefer the original 12yo release over the second 11yo batch). Regardless, I expect Dark Oak will settle in around the level of the third cask-strength release, once more scores come in.  For one early review, check out Davin at canadianwhisky.org. I’m sure more will be coming as we get closer to wider release in February.

Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now what I find in the glass:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lot 40 Cask Strength 11 Year Old (2018)

The late Fall 2018 release of the Northern Border Collection from Corby (also known as the Northern Borders Rare Collection this year) featured some returning expressions, and a few new players. I’ll be comparing the whole series in upcoming reviews, but thought I’d start with the perennial fan favourite, the Lot 40 Cask Strength release.

Lot 40 has long been the darling of the Canadian rye whisky scene. A 100% straight rye whisky, it is often the first choice recommended by Canadian rye whisky enthusiasts. In 2017, the first commercial release of a cask-strength version garnered a lot of interest.

The 2018 release carries an 11 year old age statement (it was 12yo last year). This 2018 version is bottled at 58.4% ABV, which is a little higher than last year’s release (at 55%). According to Dr Don Livermore, the Master Blender of Corby, this year’s release comes from a different bond, so has slightly different characteristics.

There is inconsistent information online about the composition of the various Lot 40 releases. But as Dr Don mentioned in his recent whisky.buzz podcast, regular lot 40 is made from column-distilled 100% rye whisky, that is then run through a pot still to remove the undesirable characteristics (i.e., the heads and tails are discarded). At least some proportion is aged in brand new virgin oak barrels. The cask-strength version is amped up in flavour compared to the regular 43% ABV release. According to Dr Don, the slightly higher strength this year release leads to a greater perception of “woodier” notes.

This is always an incredibly difficult release to find in Ontario, where it sells out within a couple of hours once it shows up online. In stores, it typically disappears off the shelves before you can find it. I had to pick up my couple of bottles from Alberta and Quebec this year (where it typically hangs around in stores or online longer). It sells for ~$100 CAD, if you can find it (which is a significant increase from last year’s ~$70 CAD).

Let’s see how it compares to other Lot 40 variants in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Lot 40 Cask Strength 11 Year Old (2018): 9.18 ± 0.16 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old (2017): 9.08 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.17 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40: 8.86 ± 0.33 on 22 reviews ($$)

Those are outstanding scores across the board. I’ll come back to the differences in the relative scores of the cask-strength releases at the end of the review. For now, let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: A noticeably different profile now – not quite as spicy as the 2017 12yo version, but a lot more fruity and floral in my view. A veritable fresh fruit cocktail, with cherries, strawberries, pears, peaches, and plums. Like before, still get plenty of caramel, anise, dill and the baking spaces – very cloves heavy (although I would say a few less cloves than last year). It is the candied sweetness that really stands out this year, with cola and bubble gum notes (what some might call cotton candy). Also more perfumy than the 2017 version – a nice bouquet of fresh flowers here, including lilacs. There was a sharpness to the original cask-strength version that I attributed to the higher proof – but it seems subdued here, despite the even higher proof of this release. A faint hint of acetone. Water helps open it up – I suggest you add a few drops. A very good start, I’m preferring it over the previous year so far.

Palate: Thick and syrupy, as before – but more like raspberry jam syrupiness now. Also more caramel on the initial arrival, with caramelized nuts. Dill is heavier too, compared to the previous version. Oaky, with the classic baking spices – but not as oaky as last year (although it seems a bit spicier in the mouth than the nose suggested). I had gotten some dry, bitter, dustiness on the swallow of the 2017 version – but that doesn’t seem to be present on this one. Definitely sweeter all across the board. Water lightens the mouthfeel, and increases the sweetness, so go easy on it – it really doesn’t need more than a few drops. Surprisingly drinkable at this very high ABV.

Finish: A good length, like the previous version (certainly longer than regular Lot 40). Baking spices reappear (focused more on the softer cinnamon and nutmeg, with less of the heavy cloves of the previous version). The candied sweetness lingers, but it is also  somewhat drying on the finish. Very nice.

While I miss the extra spiciness on the nose of the 2017 edition, this one seems more balanced and well integrated. It is also sweeter, with fruitier and floral elements enhanced. Personally, I found last year’s version had a stronger oaky character, and was more tannic. I expect this year’s version would find greater favour with most rye drinkers – although last year’s version would likely appeal more to reviewers, for the extra woodiness and complexity.

In terms of the overall experience, I would personally score this version slightly higher than last year’s release. Indeed, I was one of the rare reviewers that didn’t greatly prefer the first cask-strength release to regular Lot 40, giving the 2017 release only a single point higher score (i.e. 9.2, compared to 9.1 for regular Lot 40). I found that cask-strength was very good, but different – gaining in some regards, but also losing some of the more delicate aspects of regular Lot 40. This edition strikes me as closer to what I initially expected a cask-strength Lot 40 to be like, accentuating the core characteristics. So I would give it an additional point over last year’s release – a 9.3 score for the 2018 edition.

Among reviewers, it is a bit of a mixed bag how the two releases compare. Like me, Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky both prefer the new edition. But Jason of In Search of Elegance, Mark of Whisky Buzz and most of the Reddit reviewers prefer the 2017 release (i.e., Devoz, TOModera and xile_, and others). But the average score for the 2018 release is running higher in the database right now, given the limited number of reviews so far. As more reviews come in, I expect the overall average will drop somewhat (as that is the usual pattern for the database, as more reviews come in). In the end, I expect both versions will settle down to about the same average score. Either one is a great buy, if you can find them – but the regular Lot 40 is still an outstanding value.

 

 

 

Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old (2017)

With the surging popularity of whisky these days, it has been rewarding to see Corby come out with some innovative Canadian products (especially through their Wiser’s brand).  Many of these have been limited releases (often geographically restricted within Canada), but widely appreciated none-the-less by the local enthusiast communities.

Here I have one of the new bottlings from their new Rare Releases series for 2017 – specifically, Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 year old. This is part of what is known as (collectively) the Northern Border Collection, and I’ll be reviewing the other members of this collection shortly.

Lot 40 has always been one of the darlings of the Corby whisky catalog. Not well known outside of Canada, it is invariably the first thing every Canadian whisky nerd points to when asked for a recommendation of a Canadian rye. It is a very reasonably priced and widely available Canadian 100% rye whisky – please see my earlier review above for more info.

Recently, in anticipation of this Northern Border Collection release, a number of Canadian reviewers received access to a small number of single cask samplings of Lot 40.  But this review is of the official bottling now hitting retail shelves in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. It is bottled at 55.0% ABV, and is sold for $70 at the LCBO.

As with regular Lot 40, with is a 100% rye whisky – only now with an explicit age statement and higher cask strength. My bottle is numbered 3754 for this “First Edition” official release (out of 4968).

Here is how it compares to premium Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic database. Note that I have separated out reviews for the single cask Lot 40 in its own category.

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo: 9.01 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel: 8.55 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.73 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.83 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend: 8.39 ± 0.69 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.70 ± 0.55 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.79 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 11 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.97 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.59 ± 0.44 on 15 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.55 ± 1.00 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.17 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye: 10yo 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.82 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

And let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: As expected, Lot 40 on steroids! Heavy doses of rich baking spices – including cloves and cinnamon – plus cardamon, anise and dill. Main fruits are pears and plums (dark-skinned plums, specifically), with some citrus (oranges). Honey, with a touch of caramel. I also get a definite black tea note now. The extra strength can be a bit overwhelming, and drowns out some of the more delicate floral notes of regular Lot 40. There’s also something here that reminds me a bit of the original Pike Creek – likely the sharper rye notes.

Palate:  Thick and syrupy now, this is one you want to hold in your mouth. Cola and milk chocolate add to the honey and caramel from the nose, and cherries join the oranges. Heavy rye spices (cloves, cinnamon), with some actual dusty rye on the way out. A touch of bitterness (not sure if its from the rye or the wood, but I suspect the former). Dried herbs and tobacco, plus some sort of tannic black tea. And very peppery.  A much stronger presence that regular strength Lot 40.

Finish: Longer lasting than regular Lot 40. Spicy cloves and cinnamon (plus pepper) linger the longest, turning a bit candied over time (cinnamon red hots/swedish fish). Some astringency builds (that black tea note in particular). Dark chocolate-like bitterness also creeps in, but never overwhelms. Certainly a more substantial finish than other Canadian ryes, which tend to be a bit anemic. A nice, long-lasting glow.

With water, the nose is tamed a bit, and a breakfast fruit jam on toast note emerges. The caramel sweetness increases in the mouth, as do the more candied rye spices. Mouthfeel lightens quickly, so go easy on it. Seems to help with the bitterness on the finish. Personally, I find this one quite easy to drink to neat – but a bit of water will enhance the sweetness factor.

No doubt about it, this is an enthusiasts’ rye whisky. Much stronger rye presence than anything I can think of, including Masterson’s Straight Rye (which is probably its closest comparable). I don’t think it’s automatic that you will like this if you are a Lot 40 fan – there is an elegant subtlety to regular Lot 40 that is a bit lost here.  But for fans of cask-strength whiskies, this is really a no-brainer – I’m glad to see Corby roll this out (although sadly as only a limited release). There is talk of making some variant of this an annual release, though.

Although this is just now hitting shelves at the LCBO (and won’t last long!), there are a few reviews of the official bottling. See Davin of Canadian Whisky, Mark of Whsky Buzz, and Neversafeforlife, TOModera, Sinjun86 and muaddib99 on Reddit for very positive ones. For the single cask Lot 40 samples Corby circulated prior to release to some reviewers, you will find very positive reviews of one batch (bottled at 55.8%) by Devoz, Lasidar, Ethanized, Boyd86, and kinohead of Reddit, and Jason of In Search of Elegance. Andre of Quebec Whisky also reviewed a single cask sample (not sure if it was the same one as the others above). All agree, this is a top pick Canadian rye whisky.