Tag Archives: Northern Border Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now for what I find in the glass:

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

 

 

 

J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old (2017)

This is my fourth and final review of the limited-release 2017 Northern Border Collection from Corby – and the oldest release of a Wiser’s whisky to date.

Sporting an impressive 35 year old age statement, this J.P. Wiser’s whisky is composed mainly of double-distilled corn whisky that has been distilled to a high ABV, and aged in reused ex-bourbon barrels. It also includes about 10% column- and pot-distilled rye whisky, aged in virgin oak barrels.

This mix is a fairly standard arrangement for a Canadian whisky – the high-proof corn whisky from reused barrels serves as a “base”, to which a smaller amount of “flavouring” whisky is added (i.e., the low-proof rye whisky aged in new barrels). But it is rare to see something aged this long, and I’m personally curious to see what effect this has on the various components.

Bottled at an impressive 50% ABV, this was released for $165 CAD at the LCBO last month. I’m still seeing a few bottles on shelves at some locations, so you should still have a chance to pick it up if you move quickly.

Here is how it compares to the rest of the NBC group, and other relevant whiskies, in my Meta-Critic Database.

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo; 9.00 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Club 40yo: 9.01 ± 0.48 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.78 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.63 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.78 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.98 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.79 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Union 52: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.09 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very sweet, with brown sugar, caramel and maple sugar (I rarely get maple notes, but very pronounced here). Vanilla. Caramel apple, slightly burnt. Orange citrus. A range of soft floral notes. Buttered popcorn. Almost bourbon like, but less woody – it does indeed seem liked it was aged primarily in well-used barrels. Faint acetone and some glue notes on the nose, which seem to persist even when it has been opened for awhile. Aside from that, it’s a great nose overall – appropriately complex for the age, yet not dominated by the wood. Very nice.

Palate: Sweet up front, with similar syrupy notes as the nose – definitely some complex sugars. Gently floral. Caramel corn. Caramel apple again. Then pronounced cinnamon and nutmeg hit, with cloves and some light wood spice. Floral notes from the nose transfer to the mouth, adding complexity – with a surprising amount of dill. A bit of pepper and some tea notes round it out. Great mouth feel for 50% ABV, syrupy in texture. Some ethanol heat on way down, understandably. Again, this is surprisingly not very oaky for the age.

Finish: ‎Medium short. Caramel sweetness returns and dominates. Caramel corn. Otherwise not much going on here unfortunately, fairly simple on the way out. A bit thin on finish, frankly.

With water, it becomes more aromatic on the nose, with enhanced caramelized sugar notes. Water lightens mouth feel quickly, so I recommend you drink it neat or with only a few drops of water. It certainly doesn’t need the extra caramel flavour, in my view.

Accept for those acetone/glue notes, it’s a very nice nose and a great mouthfeel, really impressed overall on those fronts. Very decent palate too, with impressive complexity – but with a shortish finish unfortunately. A bourbon drinker might like this, as it brings in a lot of the traditional bourbon sweetness – but without the heavy oak spice.

The extended aging seems to have really mellowed the palate, while keeping the moderately complex sugars and aromatic esters around. I find myself being drawn back to sample this one repeatedly – it is an easy-to-drink, likeable dram. Elegant is probably how I would best describe it, for the Canadian whisky class. This is my second favourite of the collection after Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (although Pike Creek 21yo is a close third).

Among reviewers, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Davin of Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate are huge fans – both give this one of their highest scores ever. Among reddit reviewers, TOModera really likes this one, giving it a high score (second highest rating for the group). It gets slightly above average scores from Devoz, muaddib99 and xile_. Sinjun86 and smoked_herring both give it an average score (although their second highest for the NBC group). Finally, Chip the Rum Howler gives it a very low score (due to a moldy note he perceives). So clearly a more variable view on this one – but most quite like it, giving it high marks for the class.

 

 

Gooderham & Worts 17 Year Old Little Trinity Three Grain (2017)

This member of the new Northern Border Collection by Corby (part of their Rare Releases for 2017) is released under the Gooderham & Worts line. A stabled name in the history of Toronto whisky distillation, the inaugural Gooderham & Worts whisky was a four-grain blend of wheat, rye, corn and malt whiskies. This new limited release is named Little Trinity (after the church William Gooderham built for his distillery workers), with a 17 year old age statement. They have dropped the malt component of the blend – this is now a three-grain mix.

According to Davin at Canadian Whisky, three types of wood were used to age the base corn spirit for this whisky: new virgin oak barrels, second-fill ex-bourbon barrels, and well-used barrels that had already seen several whiskies previously. The once-distilled rye whisky component was matured in ex-bourbon barrels, and the once-distilled wheat whisky was aged in virgin oak.

Bottled at 45% ABV, this is one of the most affordable members of the NBC, at $80 CAD at the LCBO (and you might still be able to find a bottle in some locations). Here is how it compares to other members of the NBC group, and comparable popular Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.29 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.78 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve: 8.70 ± 0.36 on 14 reviews ($)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.65 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.63 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.78 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.17 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.09 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 13 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.56 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet caramel with some honey. Apple juice with a candied/dried mixed fruit concoction – very fragrant. Buttered popcorn. Creamed wheat. Light rye spice, nutmeg mainly. Except for the wheat, this is a very classic “Canadian rye” presentation (with its strong corn notes) – but fruitier than typical. Off notes are reduced from the original G&W, and consist mainly of light varnish.‎ An improvement to be sure, quite a decent nose.

Palate: Lots of rye and corn syrup now. Caramel picks up too, and the buttery flavour. A surprisingly heavy oak spice flares up quickly, packing quite a kick. This woody influence was unexpected, and is surprisingly long-lasting in the mouth. Pepper and cinnamon add to the nutmeg. Mouth feel is a bit weak for 45%, waterier than expected.‎ Not quite as complex as the nose suggested, with heavy wood spice dominating.

Finish‎: Shortish. Once the wood spice dies down (fairly quickly after swallowing), light buttered popcorn remains as the dominant note. It really just sorts of vanishes though, surprisingly quickly. A bit tannic, but no real off notes.

This is is a decent Canadian rye-style whisky, with some wheat notes adding to typical corn-heavy base. Surprisingly heavy wood spice influence, especially mid-palate. A step up from standard Gooderham & Worts, which I found to be a bit young tasting. But the finish is still too quick, and the promised complexity on the nose fails to materialize. Frankly, this is my least favourite of the Northern Border Collection – I would give it only a slightly above average score for the class of Canadian whisky.

Among reviewers, Jason of In Search of Elegance is a big fan – and even though he ranks it third for the collection, he gives it a very high score. Davin of Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate gives this his lowest score for the group (but still above average). On Reddit, TOModera is the most positive (although he only gives it his third highest score for the group). This is followed by fairly average scores from muaddib99 and Sinjun86 (lowest of the group for both of them). smoked_herring also gave it his lowest score for the group, with a below average rating. So from these early reviews, it seems most agree with me that while this is a decent whisky, it is not one of the stars of the collection.

Pike Creek 21 Year Old Speyside Cask Finish (2017)

Now here is an oddity – a Canadian corn/rye whisky finished in casks that previously held Speyside Scotch single malt.

Pike Creek 21 Year Old Speyside Cask Finish is another member of the just-released Northern Border Collection from Corby – a collection of rare, one-of-a-kind, limited-release Canadian whiskies. Following up on the hugely popular Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 year old, I was most curious to see how this expression compared.

I was always a fan of the original Pike Creek 10 Year Old, finished in Port barrels. The port added a distinctive fruity finish to what was a fairly simple Canadian whisky. Around this time last year, Corby quietly switched to a rum-barrel finish for Pike Creek – but upped the strength slightly. I also speculated at the time they also increased the rye content (which has apparently been confirmed). I could see why some might prefer the new version, but I personally didn’t find the rum-finish very interesting or compelling.

For this release, they apparently had some casks that were aging well, and so they decided to allow them to continue to age longer than usual.  Interestingly, they choose a pretty unique set of casks for final finishing – re-fill ex-bourbon barrels that had been used to mature an unnamed Scotch single malt whisky (from Chivas Brothers). I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, for a Canadian whisky.

Currently available at the LCBO for $90 CAD. It is bottled at 45% ABV. I have bottle 0558 out of 3900 produced.

Here is how it compares in my whisky Meta-Critic Database to some other recent Canadian specialty releases, and similarly-aged Canadian whiskies:

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 40yo: 8.72 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.73 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.55 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Danfield’s 21yo: 8.51 ± 0.67 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.67 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.53 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 11 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.59 ± 0.77 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.98 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 13 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.57 ± 0.24 on 8 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.64 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$$$)

It is still early for reviews, but Lot 40 Cask Strength is the unquestioned darling the Northern Border Collection.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for this Pike Creek 21yo:

Nose: Ok, that’s a bit different. It is not a very strong nose, but there are unusual characteristics. There’s something vegetal that’s hard to describe (green tobacco leaf?). Whatever it is, it is more reminiscent of something you’d find in malted barley than a corn/rye whisky. That said, I do get corn (fresh corn and corn syrup). Green fruits, including green apple and under-ripe pears. Peanut shells. Woody, like old floor boards. It’s not as sweet and lightly fruity as the original Pike Creek 10 year old Port-finished (or even the newer Rum-finished version). But the extra age shows in that there are no real off notes, beyond a slight sourness (and something that could almost be called smokey).

Palate: Nicer in the mouth, with more flavours coming through now – especially the fruit (orchard fruits) and light caramels (plus brown sugar). Nutty, with just a touch of maltiness. A good balance, with some cinnamon and nutmeg building over time. The extra ABV is very much appreciated (regular Pike Creek was only 40%) – nice mouthfeel here, with a slightly buttery texture. Absolutely no off notes, this is very pleasant to sip. A touch tannic on the way out.

Finish: Medium (although longer than standard Pike Creek). Sticky residue on the lips and gums, with corn syrup and light honey. Pear. Faint tea note. Some cinnamon comes back at the very end.

This is a mild and gentle sipper. Nothing really stands out at any point of the experience – it is just sort of “there”. It’s a whisky that hints at different characters, but none of them ever really take shape. Ultimately, this is a very likeable chameleon – one that dances around a sharp definition, without ever being caught. It will not be hard to polish this bottle off.

There aren’t many reviews of this one, but it gets generally positive assessments from TOModera, muaddib99, and Sinjun86 on Reddit. Davin of Canadian Whisky is very positive. Like the original Pike Creek, I don’t see this whisky garnering a lot of attention from enthusiasts – which means you might actually have a chance to pick a bottle up before they disappear!

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.