Tag Archives: Rye

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.

 

 

Alberta Premium Cask Strength 100% Rye

Another sought-after limited-release Canadian whisky this year, Alberta Distillers has produced a new cask-strength 100% rye. Initially released in Alberta, it has now begun to show up (in small amounts) at the LCBO in Ontario and in private liquor stores in BC.

Alberta Distillers sells a lot of rye whisky in Canada under the Alberta Premium brand, but also exports a lot to the United States. Long controlled by Beam, much of the AP rye finds its way into American whiskies. This is true at both the low end for blended products, but also at the higher-end of straight ryes, such as the virgin oak-aged Masterson’s and WhistlePig offerings (all sourced from Alberta Distillers whisky).

Regular Alberta Premium is a common, entry-level 100% rye in Canada – and one that I cannot personally recommend. With the merger of Beam and Suntory in 2014 (the latter controlling the Canadian Club brand), a new 100% rye whisky sourced from the Alberta Distillers was launched as Canadian Club 100% Rye. This entry-level rye is a much more flavourful offering from Alberta Distillers in Canada.

Most Canadians would know Alberta Premium as an entry-level brand suitable mainly for mixing (although Dark Horse is quite sip-able neat). However, earlier 25 year old and 30 year old limited-release Alberta Premium bottlings were highly regarded by enthusiasts at the time. So there was great interest in the community when a new 20 year old bottling and this cask-strength release were announced earlier this year.

The cask-strength is bottled at 65.1% ABV, and sold in a glass version of the (much derided) standard Alberta Premium bottle, with a common screw cap. It sells for $65 CAD in Ontario, but I picked it up for $58 in Alberta last week.

Here is how it compares to other Alberta Distillers-sourced whiskies – and recent Lot 40 cask-strengths – in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Alberta Premium: 8.08 ± 0.68 on 13 reviews ($)
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye: 8.78 ± 0.29 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.57 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Alberta Rye Dark Batch: 8.56 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.23 ± 0.44 on 9 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.25 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($)
Little Book Chapter 2 Noe Simple Task: 8.95 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (2017): 9.06 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.15 ± 0.13 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.70 ± 0.51 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye: 10yo 8.83 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.77 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$$)

As a recent release, there are relatively few review so far. I recommend you check out out my database directly for updates.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Overwhelming bubblegum initially. There is caramel here, and tons of fruit, with fresh bananas, cherries, apricots, oranges, and green grapes (also some figs). Sweet and creamy, almost like a fruit liqueur. Rye spices tend more towards cloves than the typical cinnamon, but there’s soft nutmeg here too. Peppery. Wintergreen lifesavers. Has an earthy quality, but dry and dusty. There is a very faint solvent smell lurking in the background, but easy to miss. This a massive fruity rye nose. Water enhances the caramel, and brings in a milk chocolate note.

Palate: A bit hit of simple sugar syrup and tons of citrus initially (oranges). Fruits from the nose are heavily present, along with a strong oak backbone. Heavy rye spices (with cinnamon now) and loads of black pepper. The earthy quality gets more vegetal in the mouth. Good amount of sweet caramel on the swallow. The ABV reveals itself, so you will want to take small sips. With water, texture turns velvety, and chocolate velvet cake comes to mind as well. I also get walnuts. If you like you whiskies sweet, you will like this whisky.

Finish: A good length. Caramel sweetness and oaky notes last the longest, with some lingering woody bitterness (which is somewhat drying). Dried cherries. Cleansing orange citrus washes over the tongue. A hint of dill.

Wow, the fruity bubblegum really gives it away – this is not a cask strength version of Alberta Premium, it is a cask-strength version of Canadian Club 100% Rye (with some extra oaky notes thrown in). And that is probably a good thing, as CC 100% Rye is actually quite a decent rye whisky. It’s nice to see a woodier cask-strength version.

You will want some water to tame the burn here, but if anything water actually accentuates the creamy sweetness. While this does not have the complexity of the older virgin oak-aged WhistlePig or Masterson’s Alberta ryes, it still has considerable charm (especially for the relatively low price).

While a fun ride, I would definitely put it a notch or two below Masterson’s 10 yo or the typical cask-strength Lot 40 ryes (although roughly on par with the French oak-finished Third Edition recently reviewed). If your preference is more for bold, fruity sweetness, this is the whisky to go for – the Lot 40 cask strengths remain more refined. That said, I would personally give this a point higher than the current Meta-Critic average score (i.e., ~8.9).

The highest relative score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Redditor _xile, followed by positive reviews from Jason of In Search of Elegance and Bryan of the Toronto Whisky Society. Mark of Whisky Buzz gives it a positive review, but a slightly-below average score (for him). A good value cask-strength 100% rye, if your tastes run more toward the sweeter side.

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.

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Overview: 2018-2019 & 2019-2020 Editions

In addition to my stand-alone reviews, I thought I would provide an overview for this NHL Alumni series, as multiple editions (each featuring multiple whiskies) are now available – with more soon to be released (see below). This will help you better understand the context for these whiskies, and the individual “score cards” below will allow you to quickly focus in on ones that may be interested to try.

As context, when the first batch of J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series whiskies were released in late 2018, many Canadian whisky enthusiasts seemed to dismiss these as some sort of marketing gimmick. The relatively low ABV (and low price) of the first edition of this series may have suggested to some that they were just re-branded existing Wiser’s blends.

But the integral role of Dr Don Livermore in creating of each individual whisky caused a few of us to take notice. As Master Blender of Corby, Dr Don is responsible for all the recent premium J.P. Wiser’s releases, including the Rare Casks series and the highly sought-after annual Northern Border Collection releases. Dr Don offers blending classes at Wiser’s distillery in Windsor, Ontario – and took each of the star players these whiskies are named after through the process, so that they could really contribute to the composition of their namesake blends.

Somewhat like playing cards, each edition of this NHL Alumni series features three whiskies named after star hockey players. The profits from the sales of these whiskies are shared evenly with the NHL Alumni Association, to help support former players in need (i.e., those who didn’t receive star contracts). Each bottle retails for a very reasonable ~$45 CAD in most jurisdictions.

The first 2018-2019 edition (Guy Lafleur, Wendel Clark and Lanny McDonald) was initially released with a limited Provincial distribution – reflecting the home team of the individual players in their heydays. But these are now all available in Ontario. Well, all except for the popular Guy Lafleur edition, which seems to be sold-out everywhere (as November 2019).

For whisky geeks, these bottlings are a lot of fun. Each whisky has an age statement, and detailed distilling and barreling details specific for that release. For hockey fans, there are many “easter eggs”, or nods to the individual player’s career highlights for each bottle. Many of these are not immediately obvious, so I thought I would detail them all here for the first three sets of releases. Even the labels are pretty neat, with artsy illustrations of the players, with their names in their dominant team colours. And I can’t help but notice that while they use the Gooderham & Worts bottle shape, the cork cap has a black round disc top – like a hockey puck, perhaps?

I’m frankly still at a bit of loss as to why these Alumni series whiskies continue to fly under the radar of most Canadian reviewers. But it looks like Wiser’s is starting to circulate the third release to some online reviewers ahead of time, so that’s probably a positive sign they will start promote these more extensively. All my reviews come from bottles I’ve personally bought.

At this time (November 2019), most of the original 2018-2019 edition and the first batch of the 2019-2020 edition whiskies are available in Ontario at the LCBO. These can also be ordered directly from J.P. Wiser’s website (for delivery in Ontario only). A second batch of 2019-2020 edition whiskies, reflecting a series of team Captains, is due out shortly.

Again, there are relatively few reviews of these to date. In addition to checking out my detailed reviews (links below), I recommend you check out the ones from the Toronto Whisky Society, and Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Chip the RumHowler. Mark Bylok has also recently recorded a series overview on his whisky.buzz podcast.

But to help you compare, here are my Meta-Critic results for the Alumni series so far, compared to other inexpensive Wiser’s products:

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sitter 10yo: 8.31 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny MacDonald 9yo: 8.46 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6yo: 8.52 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey 7yo: 8.11 ± 0.11 on 2 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 9.01 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)

J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.39 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.98 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Rye: 7.93 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Small Batch: 8.49 ± 0.28 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Special Blend: 7.34 ± 0.85 on 6 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye: 8.53 ± 0.25 on 9 reviews ($)

2018-2019 Edition – Wendel Clark, Guy Lafleur, and Lanny McDonald

Wendel Clark

Grain: 100% unmalted rye
Age: 11 years old
ABV: 41.6%
Distillation: mainly column-distilled, but some column-then-pot distilled as well
Oak: mainly ex-Bourbon, but some Virgin Oak casks as well

The defining feature of this whisky is the 100% rye, meant to reflect Clark’s bold, aggressive playing style for the Toronto Maple Leafs. This release certainly has some similarity to the classic Lot 40. Indeed, a portion of it seems to be exactly that – that is, 100% unmalted rye, first column-distilled then distilled a second time in a copper pot still, and aged in virgin oak barrels. But the extra age is appreciated (Lot 40 has no age statement, assumed to be a few years younger). According to the whisky.buzz podcast with Dr Don, most of this Wendel Clark release is from column-distilled, 100% unmalted rye aged in ex-bourbon barrels. The unusual ABV of 41.6% is a reference to the classic Toronto telephone area code.

While it lacks some of the floral elements of Lot 40, it is pretty close in quality overall, in my opinion. Personally, I find Lot 40 has a slightly more intense rye finish, but this Wendel Clark is definitely fruitier and sweeter overall (especially in the mouth). The extra age helps with the complexity too, making this one an outstanding value in the Canadian whisky class. My top draft pick from among the first two editions of the Alumni series so far.

Please see my full review for detailed tasting notes.

Guy Lafleur

Grain: 100% corn
Age: 10 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: double-column distilled
Oak: mix of ex-Speyside, ex-rum, and ex-Bourbon casks

Guy Lafleur was the star right-wing forward for the Montreal Canadians during my youth, renown for his “Flower Power.” The defining feature of this whisky is “smooth” – a reference to Lafleur’s gracefulness on ice. The 10-year old age statement is a nod to his retired Canadiens jersey number. And the roughly 1/3 proportion of cask types is an homage to his many hat-tricks.

This is a very easy-drinking and sweet whisky. Indeed, you could potentially mistake it for a lighter rum instead of a whisky – the rum influence is just that great. Slightly less spicy than the current Pike Creek 10yo, but with a lot of similarities due to the rum barrels. A crowd pleaser for sure, this one was a particularly big hit with my Dad when I gave it to him for Father’s Day. It is a little too much on the sweet side for me personally though.

Please see my full review for detailed tasting notes.

Lanny McDonald

Grain: mainly corn, followed by wheat (a significant amount), and a touch of rye
Age: 9 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: corn is unknown (likely column distilled), wheat is pot distilled, and rye is column distilled
Oak: used Canadian whisky barrels for the corn and rye distillates, Virgin Oak casks for the wheat

The relatively heavy use of wheat in this whisky is a nod to Lanny McDonald’s youth, having grown up on a farm in Alberta. Apparently, it was also his personal preference among the whiskies he sampled for consideration in this blend. The 9-year old age statement refers to Lanny’s jersey number, when he played right wing for the Calgary Flames.

A sweet whisky overall – but also with character, in a dry and dusty style. Very easy to drink, but with a different flavour profile than typical – with  strong nutty, tobacco and anise flavours (presumably from the wheat).

Wheat whiskies can be hard to do well. I haven’t been a fan of most Canadian wheat-heavy whiskeys, but I rather like this one. It is “softer” than a wheated bourbon, but brings in some of the same elements (likely thanks to the virgin oak casks). If you are in the mood for black licorice, this would fit the bill.

Please see my full review for detailed tasting notes.

2019-2020 Edition – Larry Robinson, Darryl Sittler, Paul Cofey

Larry Robinson

Grain: mainly corn, with a significant amount of rye (19%)
Age: 6 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: column distilled
Oak: six barrel types – used Canadian whisky barrels, double charred, ex-Bourbon, rum, Port and French Oak casks

Larry Robinson, aka “Big Bird”, was my favourite defenceman as a kid, during the heyday of the 1970s/80-era Montreal Canadiens. The hockey link here is in reference to Larry’s 6 Stanley Cup wins – the whisky is 6 years old, and 6 different barrel types went into the blend. The French Oak was apparently included because he played in Quebec (although that one seems a bit tenuous). The relatively high amount of rye (19%) reflects his jersey number. The relative complexity of the blend supposedly reflects Larry’s “intellectual” and serious attention to detail, both in the game and in the blending process.

This is a very distinctive Canadian whisky – it has a lot more going on than you would normally come across. It is also the most complex of the Alumni series to date. I find the diverse cask influence works really well on the nose, with a great balance of aromas across classic winey, bourbony and oaky styles. Tasty enough in the mouth as well, but with a real jolt of spice that I wasn’t expecting from the nose. Unfortunately, the finish is where this one fizzles out for me. A bitter oak influence asserts itself on the finish, along with a lack of character that is consistent with the younger spirits that went into this blend. I think it would have benefited from longer aging, and a bit less overt oakiness.

Please see my full review for detailed tasting notes.

Darryl Sittler

Grain: mainly corn, followed by rye (6%), wheat (4%) and malted barley (4%)
Age: 10 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: all column distilled
Oak: mainly used Canadian whisky barrels, some ex-Bourbon casks

Judging from my Toronto friends, it seems like Darryl Sittler was one of the most popular centres to ever play for the Maple Leafs. The main hockey link here is the age and grain proportions of this whisky, both referring to a record-setting 10-point night for Darryl: the rye/wheat-barley mix reflects his number of goals (6) and assists (4) in that 1976 game. The overall style is said to be a “well-rounded” whisky, much like his famed playing style.

Probably the most traditional “Canadian Rye” whisky of the lineup so far, with its column-distilled grainy character and somewhat standard blend of grains. It has a strong corn-forward presence on the nose, but with a surprising amount of dry rye spices in the mouth (and dusty/earthy notes as well). It has been a while since I’ve had Wiser’s Deluxe, but this seems a like an amped-up version of it to me (and so, may also be best suited as mixer). It’s not bad by any stretch, but also not very distinctive either.

Please see my full review for detailed tasting notes.

Paul Coffey

Grain: mainly corn, with some rye (7%)
Age: 7 years old
ABV: 48%
Distillation: all column distilled
Oak: used Canadian whisky barrels, ex-Speyside, ex-Bourbon, and Virgin Oak casks

A star defenceman for the Edmonton Oilers, the obvious connection to Paul Coffey is his jersey number (7), which relates both the age of this whisky and the proportion of rye in the blend. The noticeably higher proof at 48% ABV also refers to his historic 48 goal season (a record for the most goals scored by a defenseman in a single season). The higher proof is probably also a nod to his high-energy form of play.

I haven’t picked this one up, but will update this review if I get a chance to try it. From the reviews online, it seems like this is sweet and light, with a fairly typical Canadian whisky profile – except for the higher strength. But the higher strength (and young age) may be an issue, as I’ve seen complaints that it is also very “spirity.” It gets the lowest scores to date for the Alumni series.

2019-2020 Edition – Mark Messier, Yvan Courneyor, Dave Keon

A second batch of 2019-2020 edition is coming out this winter, featuring a series of team Captains (as a nice touch, the jersey “C” are all clearly visible in the player illustrations).  Advanced information is provided below, with more details to follow once known. One editorial comment: I’m glad to see the age statements have gone back up to >10 years!

Mark Messier

Grain: a blend of corn, rye, and malt barley
Age: 11 years old
ABV: 47%
Distillation: single column distilled rye and malt, double distilled corn
Oak: ex-Bourbon and ex-Speyside casks

Mark Messier was a star centre for the Edmonton Oilers, and as Captain, led both the Oilers and New York Rangers to Stanley Cup victories. This whisky is aged 11 years in honour of Messier’s jersey number, and is bottled at 94 proof in honour of Messier winning the cup in 1994 in New York.

Yvan Courneyor

Grain: a blend of corn, rye, and malted barley
Age: 12  years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: single column distilled rye, column and then pot-distilled rye (i.e., Lot 40), double distilled corn, and column distilled malt.
Oak: a mix of used Canadian barrels, ex-Bourbon and Virgin Oak casks

Yvan “The Roadrunner” Cournoyer was a right-winger and Captain of the Montreal Canadiens from 1975-78. But his peak years were 1971-73, and he was famous for his role in the 1972 Summit Series – scoring three goals, and providing the crucial assist for Paul Henderson’s series-ending winning goal. And that is one of the nods here – apparently the mix for this whisky was “inspired” by the 1972 recipe for Carleton Tower, an old Hiram Walker blend. It is aged for 12 years in honour of Cournoyer’s retired jersey number. This is the whisky that I am most curious to try when this new edition is released, with its base of Lot 40 rye.

Dave Keon

Grain: a blend of corn, rye, and malted barley
Age: 14 years old
ABV: 45%
Distilling: single column distilled rye, column and pot-distilled rye, single column distilled malt, and double distilled corn.
Oak: a mix of used Canadian barrels, ex-Bourbon, Virgin Oak, and ex-Speyside casks

Dave Keon was a centre forward for the Maple Leafs – from an earlier generation in the early-to-mid 1960s when they won several Stanley Cups (prior to his being named Captain). Aged 14 years in honour of his jersey number 14. The ABV is also a nod to Keon’s 45-point first season. And the 4 types of oak casks are a nod to his 4 Stanley Cup wins. Another one to watch out for!

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6 Year Old

This is my second review of the 2019-2020 Edition of J.P. Wiser’s NHL Alumni series of whiskies. Following up on the inaugural release of the 2018-2019 Edition, a second offering was released in the spring of 2019. This 2019-2020 Edition features whiskies named after Larry Robinson, Darryl Sittler, and Paul Coffey. As before, each of these players was involved in helping select component whiskies for their namesake blends. The profits from the series are shared evenly with NHL Alumni Association, to help support former players in need. As before, these all retail for ~$45 CAD in most jurisdictions.

I was generally impressed with the 2018-2019 Edition, which all featured age statements and more distilling and barreling details than typically found in Canadian whiskies (especially at this price point). All whiskies are designed by Dr Don Livermore, Master Blender of Corby (who owns J.P. Wiser’s). He is the person most directly responsible for all the popular limited/special releases coming out of Corby (i.e., the Rare Cask series and the Northern Border Collection).

At this time (November 2019), all of the original 2019-2020 Edition whiskies are widely available in Ontario at the LCBO. These can even be ordered directly from J.P. Wiser’s website (for delivery in Ontario only).

Let’s check out the composition of this Larry Robinson whisky:

Grain: Mainly corn, with a significant amount of rye (19%)
Age: 6 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: column distilled
Oak: six barrel types; standard used Canadian whisky, double charred, ex-Bourbon, rum, Port and French Oak

Larry Robinson, aka “Big Bird”, was my favourite defenceman as a kid (Bobby Orr was a bit ahead of my time ;). Larry played with the Montreal Canadiens during their second heyday in the late 1970s, early 1980s. The hockey nod here is in reference to Larry’s 6 Stanley Cup wins – the whisky is 6 years old, and 6 different barrel types went into the blend. The relatively high amount of rye (19%) reflects his jersey number. The French Oak was apparently included because he played in Quebec (although that one seems a bit tenuous). The relative complexity of the blend supposedly reflects Larry’s “intellectual” and serious attention to detail, both in the game and in the blending process.

This is definitely the most diverse whisky in the series so far. Indeed, I suspect it is also the most expensive to produce, given the costs associated with all those special casks. Certainly a first to see a Canadian whisky at this price point feature French Oak and Port casks.

Here are how this whisky compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, relative to the other Alumni series releases, and some whiskies with similar profiles.

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sitter 10yo: 8.31 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny MacDonald 9yo: 8.46 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6yo: 8.52 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey 7yo: 8.11 ± 0.11 on 2 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 9.01 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)

Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.57 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Bearface Triple Oak 7yo: 8.39 ± 0.19 on 7 reviews ($$)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.53 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend: 8.30 ± 0.71 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine French Oak Cask Finished: 8.25 ± 0.81 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.65 ± 0.49 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Unity: 8.95 ± 0.29 on 4 reviews ($$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: A lot going on here, reflecting all the casks that went into it. Winey notes strike me immediately, with grapes and dried fruits. Next up are the sweet rum and bourbon notes, heavy with molasses and brown sugar. Candy floss. The drier oak spices come next, musty and leathery, and then the baking spices. No real off notes. A lot to dissect here, but very sweet and fruity overall. Nice!

Palate: Sweet bourbon notes to start, with caramel, vanilla and cola. Then the winey grape flavours, maybe a bit nutty. But a real hit of rye spice – cinnamon and cloves especially – dominate mid-palate. Dill and a touch of cayenne pepper. Finally, the woody oak notes drift in on the swallow, with dry paper/cardboard. Hotter than I expect for 40% ABV, I think the youthful spirit is asserting itself here.

Finish: The sweet caramel and vanilla notes make a resurgence, as do the drier rye spices. But the bitter oaky notes – and the dry paper taste – dominate. I’m afraid this one loses some points on the finish for me.

This is a very distinctive Canadian whisky – there is a lot more going on than you would normally come across. I find the diverse cask influence works really well on the nose, with a great balance of aromas across classic winey, bourbony and oaky styles. You pick up more and more aromas as you spend your time with it. Tasty enough in the mouth as well, but with a real jolt of spice that I wasn’t expecting from the nose.

Unfortunately, the finish is where this one fizzles out for me. The heavier oak influence asserts itself on the finish, along with a general lack of character that is consistent with the younger spirits that went into this blend. I think it would have benefited from longer aging, and a bit less overt oakiness. But it is still a nice whisky overall, with a very complex nose.

There are relatively few reviews to date. I recommend you check out the ones from the Toronto Whisky Society and Jason of In Search of Elegance. Mark Bylok also covered this whisky in his recent series overview whisky.buzz podcast. I find the Meta-Critic average score to be appropriate. Still widely available in Ontario.

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sittler 10 Year Old

Following up on the inaugural 2018-2019 Edition of the J.P. Wiser’s Alumni series, a second offering was released in the spring of 2019. This 2019-2020 Edition features whiskies named after Darryl Sittler, Larry Robinson, and Paul Coffey. As before, each of these players were involved in helping select component whiskies for their namesake blends. The profits from the series are shared evenly with NHL Alumni Association, to help support former players in need. As before, these all retail for ~$45 CAD in most jurisdictions.

I was generally impressed with the 2018-2019 Edition whiskies, which all featured age statements and more distilling and barreling details than typically found in Canadian whiskies (especially at this price point). All whiskies are designed by Dr Don Livermore, Master Blender of Corby (who owns J.P. Wiser’s). He is the person most directly responsible for all the popular limited/special releases coming out of Corby (i.e., the Rare Cask series and the Northern Border Collection).

At this time (November 2019), all of the 2019-2020 Edition whiskies remain widely available in Ontario at the LCBO. These can even be ordered directly from J.P. Wiser’s website (for delivery in Ontario only).

First, let’s check out the composition of this Darryl Sittler namesake whisky:

Grain: mainly corn, followed by rye (6%), wheat (4%) and malted barley (4%)
Age: 10 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: all column distilled
Oak: mainly used Canadian whisky barrels, some ex-Bourbon casks

Growing up in Montreal in the 1970s and 80s, I didn’t get to see a lot Toronto Maple Leaf games (as the Leafs and Canadiens were rarely matched up in that period). But I saw enough to know that Darryl Sittler was one of Toronto’s most popular players. A centre for the Leafs, Darryl even captained the Leafs for a period during this era.

The main hockey link here is the age and grain proportions of this whisky, both referring to a famous 10-point night for Darryl in 1976: the rye/wheat-barley mix reflects his number of goals (6) and assists (4) in that game (the record still stands, by the way). The overall whisky style is said to be “well-rounded,” much like his famed playing style.

Here is how this Darryl Sittler whisky compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, relative to other Alumni releases and some similar whiskies:

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sitter 10yo: 8.31 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny MacDonald 9yo: 8.46 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6yo: 8.52 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey 7yo: 8.11 ± 0.11 on 2 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 9.01 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)

Crown Royal: 7.56 ± 0.48 on 20 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Reserve: 8.41 ± 0.63 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.59 ± 0.28 on 13 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.39 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.98 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye: 8.53 ± 0.25 on 9 reviews ($)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Corn forward indeed, I’m getting a lot of sweet corn syrup to start. Candied fruit aromas – including some dark fruits – but also pears, plums and apricots. Orange citrus. Definitely grainy as well, with classic column-distilled notes. Rye spices show up too, with a bit of ginger. Unfortunately, I also get some artificial sweetener notes and a bit of acetone.

Palate: A surprising amount of rye hits me upfront in the initial palate, a lot more than I expected from the nose. The corn syrup is still there, plus maple syrup, very sweet on the swallow. Buttered popcorn. Has a dry, earthy characteristic – like ginger and dried leaves. Mild, with no real burn. Not a whole lot going on in the mouth, seems like a fairly traditional Wiser’s blend.

Finish: The dried earthy notes and light rye spices dominate. The artificial sweetener note lingers the longest, matched with a slightly tannic oaky bitterness.

It has been a while since I’ve had Wiser’s Deluxe, but this seems a like an amped-up version of it to me – just heavier, with drier rye and earthy notes. This style would be very recognizable to Canadian whisky drinkers – it is probably the most representative example of the classic “Canadian Rye” flavour profile that I’ve come across yet for the Alumni series. Well executed, but not very distinctive (except for those earthy notes). J.P. Wiser’s Triple Rye is similar in style, and benefits from a lack some of the artificial sweetener notes. Crown Royal Reserve could be another good comparable. Sippable neat, it would also do very well as a higher-end mixer.

There are relatively few reviews to date. I recommend you check out the ones from the Toronto Whisky Society and Jason of In Search of Elegance. Mark Bylok also covered this whisky in his recent series overview whisky.buzz podcast. I find the Meta-Critic average score to be appropriate.

 

Bearface Triple Oak 7 Year Old

Bearface is a rather unique new Canadian whisky. I first noticed in a local LCBO early this year, due to its rather rakish bottle design (a little risque for Canadian whisky). But my interest was piqued by the fact that it won a Gold medal at the annual Canadian Whisky Awards in January 2019 – a competition where the medals are based on blind tasting by experienced Canadian reviewers (including several in my database).

My curiosity was further aroused by Mark Bylok’s interview with Andres Faustinelli, the creator of this whisky and master blender for Mark Anthony Wine and Spirits’ new Bearface brand.  Simply put, the approach to creating this whisky places the emphasis at the opposite end of where most whisky producers do.

To break that down, most new whiskies come from new or established spirit distillers, who focus first on the quality of their distillate (i.e., choice of grains, distillation methods, etc). Type of wood aging comes next (through acquired casks), followed by blending and potential use of special “finishes,” to impart additional flavours and complexity to the final whisky. Typically this involves some period of additional aging in casks that previously held other spirits, often fortified wines like Sherry or Port. See my Source of Whisky Flavour for more information on the general process.

The point is that whisky making is generally driven the whisky producers’ interests and needs, and they source the casks they want to age their whisky in accordance with those needs. As explained in the above interview, the process for this new whisky was reversed, by looking at it from a wine-makers point of view (who typically focus on quality oak, for limited exposure periods with the wine). Here, they chose a fairly neutral corn-based spirit from a distiller on contract (already aged 7 years), and experimented with extensive exposure of the same whisky to multiple types of barrels, as they would do for wine aging.

This intensive finishing approach arose, as Mr. Faustinelli put it, when they chose to “ask the wrong people the right questions” – in other words, looking to see how those involved in making wine would seek to solve problems whisky makers face when try to produce the final flavour profile.

To try and summarize succinctly, high proof whisky produced by a Collingwood distiller (i.e, presumed Canadian Mist) entered into a mix of French Oak and American Oak casks that previously held classic fresh Bordeaux red wines (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot), at a BC winery. Both the different varietals and the different oaks imparted different characteristics to the spirit. After finishing for 3 months, the whisky was transferred to fresh Hungarian Oak casks, where the wood was previously “seasoned” outdoors. The virgin Hungarian Oak barrels were then “toasted” to one of three char levels, and used no more than 3 times for this project (for 2 weeks exposure to the whisky each time). Despite the limited time, this added a lot more overtly oaky notes. The outcome of all these multiple finishing experiments are then separated into flavour “families”, and blended in a specific proportion for this inaugural Triple Oak Canadian whisky. I recommend you listen to the interview for the the full picture, or check out Jason Hambrey’s detailed post on In Search of Elegance for details of the wood.

Let’s see how it currently performs in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to other relevant Canadian whiskies:

Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.58 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Bearface Triple Oak 7yo: 8.37 ± 0.13 on 6 reviews ($$)
Canadian Club Sherry Cask: 8.15 ± 0.66 on 8 reviews ($$)
Canadian Mist: 7.57 ± 0.69 on 11 reviews ($)
Canadian Mist Black Diamond: 8.02 ± 0.54 on 6 reviews ($)
Collingwood: 8.02 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.54 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Black: 8.19 ± 0.48 on 17 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.66 ± 0.49 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Unit:y 8.97 ± 0.28 on on 4 reviews ($$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.34 ± 0.35 13 reviews ($$)
Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Red Cask: 7.91 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$)

Bottled at 42.5% ABV. I picked it up for $40 CAD at the LCBO earlier this year. Let’s see what I find in the glass.

Nose: Very sweet corn syrup. Buttered popcorn, slightly scorched. Condensed milk. Sweet tarts. Toasted marshmellows. Lots of fruit, but different than you would expect – black and red currants, cranberries. Dried apricot. Perfumy floral, with violets. Light rye spice, cinnamon especially, but also with hint of chilies. The toasted oak really comes through, there is no hiding the complexity here. No real off notes from the distillate, the extra age (longer than most Canadian whiskies) presumably helps with that. Off to a good start.

Palate: Initial corn sweetness hit, gets creamier on the swallow. Definitely a sweet one, not really getting the tartness from the nose any more. Indeed, not really getting any of the subtle notes here – the toasted oak comes on really strong mid-palate, and dominates everything else. More like burnt marshmellows and popcorn now, and scorched wood. Has a silky texture, with good mouthfeel. Rye spices comes up at the later palate, but soft and not at all “hot” or sharp. Fairly mild, consistent with the alcohol level.

Finish: Again, the woody notes definitely dominate initially on the finish, but with the lighter rye spices holding their own. Some of the dried fruit notes return eventually. Coffee grinds. Some astringency, but not the initial tartness from the nose. More going on here than a typical Canadian corn whisky, that’s for sure. Some sticky sweet corn syrup lingers until the end.

I’m at a bit of loss of how to rank this whisky.  On first sampling, I really liked some of the additional flavours that have been introduced by the fresh wine cask aging – despite the heavy corn-syrup base sweetness. But the toasted Hungarian oak is just proving too overwhelming on the palate for me, and I find it falls too flat and over-oaked for my tastes. Probably more of an after-dinner whisky, especially for those of you who like heavy wood influence (I typically don’t). While I appreciate the innovation, I expect this whisky would appeal to a limited audience.

There aren’t many reviews of this whisky out there yet, but the most positive are Davin of Whisky Advocate and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, with above average scores.  This is followed by more average ratings by Jason of In Search of Elegance and Andre and Martin of Quebec Whisky. No reviews on Reddit yet, but kinohead did provide a fairly positive set of impressions here. My own assessment would be at the low end, closer to Andre and Martin. Definitely a unique experience in the Canadian whisky scene, but a bit of a niche product. I am however curious as to what they will come up with next.

 

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 Alumni Series Wendel Clark 100% Rye 11 Year Old

J.P. Wiser’s has been releasing a lot of really interesting stuff in recent years – thanks in large part to Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore. Anyone who has tried Wiser’s Dissertation, Lot 40 Cask Strength, Wiser’s 35yo, or any of the revived Gooderham & Worts releases will appreciate what I mean.

Something that fell below my radar until recently was the new Alumni Series, in partnership with the NHL almumni association (NHLAA). With a share of proceeds going directly to NHLAA, they plan to release six regionally-specific whiskies – named after well-known hockey stars from those provinces. Each has different characteristics (fancifully compared to that player’s perceived style of play). The first set of releases came out at the end of October, in honour of Guy Lafleur (only in Quebec at the SAQ), Lanny McDonald (only in Alberta), and Wendel Clark (only in Ontario, at the LCBO). They typically sell for ~$45 CAD in each jurisdiction.

I’ve picked up bottles of all three in my travels. Guy Lafleur’s namesake whisky is a 10yo 100% corn whisky, Lanny McDonald’s whisky is a 9yo wheat-forward blend, and Wendel Clark’s whisky (reviewed here) is an 11yo 100% rye whisky. Given the success of Lot 40 and its cask-strength special releases, I’m most interested to try the 100% rye Clark release (although hockey-wise I am personally partial to “flower power,” having grown up in Quebec in the 70s and 80s).

According to the whisky.buzz podcast with Dr Livermore, this 11 year old Wendel Clark release is a column-distilled, 100% rye whisky, matured in ex-bourbon casks. In Search of Elegance reports there is also some column- and then pot-distilled 100% rye aged in charred virgin oak casks blended in as well (i.e., some of the Lot 40-style whisky).

Note that most of these Alumni Series releases are bottled at the industry-standard 40% ABV – not surprisingly, given the non-enthusiast audience they are aimed at. But the Clark release is bottled at a slight bump to 41.6% ABV, as a nod to the 416 telephone area code for Toronto. If only the Lafleur whisky were similarly bottled in honour of the 514 area code!

There aren’t enough reviews of these whiskies to reach threshold for inclusion in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database yet, so let’s jump directly to my tasting notes:

Nose: Sweet and creamy rye, with some faint corn notes (likely from the ex-bourbon barrels). Red berries, cherries. Caramel apples. Fresh fruit cocktail. Dried apricots. A bit of dill, plus some sort of fragrant flower I can’t quite place. Barrel char. A faint milk chocolate note. Cinnamon and nutmeg. No real off notes. Fruitier than lot 40 (and less floral).

Palate: Very creamy in the mouth, with tons of butterscotch and caramel (again, seems to be that ex-bourbon). You just want to hold it before swallowing. More dried fruits now, instead of fresh. Sour green apple. Still a floral note, but can’t place it. Lots of soft cinnamon now. But also has some zing to it, with chilies, black pepper and cloves. A touch of bitterness on the swallow, but mild. The column-distilled rye grain comes across differently than the pot-distilled Lot 40, especially in the mouthfeel (i.e., the way it spreads across the tongue).

Finish: Medium. Candy coating on the tongue, cola. Cinnamon is back, as cloves settle down. Corn whisky notes come back again as well. Sticky residue on lips and gums. The finish is decent, but not really a stand-out for me.

Definitely one for those with a sweet tooth. I could see putting this almost on par with Lot 40 – except it lacks some of the complexity. Specifically, I get fewer floral notes and a less intense rye finish here (i.e., Lot 40 lasts longer). I would personally score this whisky a point or two less – maybe an 8.8 on my Meta-Critic scale.

The only review I’ve seen of this whisky so far is from Jason of In Search of Elegance, who gave it a slightly higher score with a very favourable review.

Not sure how long this one-time release will last here in Ontario, which is why I wanted to get this review out now. Rest assured, you don’t need to be a hockey fan to appreciate this quality straight rye whisky – but it could make a good gift for a Maple Leafs fan.

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