Review: Canadian Rockies 35 Year Old Cask Strength Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of the Fountana Group.

Image courtesy of the Fountana Group.

ABV
79.3%
Aging
35 yrs; Ex-bourbon cask
Recipe
100% Corn
Producer Highwood (High River, Alberta)

Here we have a very notable whisky - the oldest bottling of Canadian whisky with an age statement since the pre-prohibition bottling of a 37 year old Seagrams, at my best guess. It is another 100% corn whisky sourced from Highwood distillery by the Fountana Group, primarily for Taiwan, though they have released some of the terrific 21 Year Old in Canada (and I have seen a few bottles of this 35, too). It is from a single cask, divided between 211 bottles - 181 at 50% ABV and 30 at the whopping cask strength of 79.1% (yes, you heard it right). The dryness in Alberta means that more water than alcohol evaporates from the cask, resulting in a slowly increasing alcohol level, giving us a whisky that makes the George T. Stagg's and other hazmat whiskies of the world seem diminutive.

I kindly received the last of a 3 oz sample bottle that has travelled over 5,350 km, initially in Davin De Kergommeaux's possession before being passed on to Blair Phillips and now its story ended with me. There was only about half an ounce left, but it still left its mark!

Word has it that there is a 40 coming...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Distilled December 12, 1980 (79.3%)
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date 2015

At this strength, it isn’t even very spirity. Incredibly creamy, woody, dry, and rich on the nose – butterscotch, corn husks, tobacco, dried dill, and light spicy and earthy notes. Wood dominates at lower ABV strengths, but at full strength it is more into balance with succulent, creamy sweet caramel and vanilla. The palate is silky smooth, with stewed peaches, creamed corn, oak, dried apricot, toffee, light cacao, and of course wood. The finish is full, creamy, and spicy – one of the longest rambling and developing finishes I have ever encountered, playing in texture and feel for minutes after a small sip – first sweet and creamy, then spice is added, then drying, them creamy again, then sweet and dry – not always in the same order. Perhaps the creamiest finish i have experienced, and one of the most notable. This is delicious!

I never thought one of the silkiest whiskies i have tried would be bottled at nearly 80%. At this strength, you can’t take a big sip – a few mls are enough to do wonders. This is one of the most elegant and notable whiskies I have ever tasted. The only knack against it is that it could have more complexity, but this is so subtle and fragile I also wouldn’t want to change anything. A wow whisky.

But don’t take it from me – check out Davin’s review here and Blair’s review here.

Score: 92/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $850)


Review: Canadian Rockies 10 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
10 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Producer Highwood (High River, Alberta)

This whisky is another whisky produced by the Canadian Rockies company, which also boasts a terrific 21 Year Old. This is the younger brother.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Sweet caramel, apple, lots of apple seed, coconut, maple, freshly made polenta, and even a bit of worn leather. This, without a question, has the characteristics revealing that it is on its way towards becoming one of the great long aged Canadian corn whiskies like Highwood Ninety 20 or Canadian Rockies 21. The palate is easy, sweet, and quite vibrant in its corn character – a bit of nutmeg and clove on the finish too, with light bitterness. The finish has sweet fresh corn on the cob, vanilla, fresh parmesan, and light clove and a touch of cinnamon. Since my reference is the older aged corn whiskies, I can’t help but comparing them – this is more reminiscent of fresh sweet corn, and brighter fruit – the older stuff has more dried fruit, leather, and of course oak. But this has a nice character, and it is remarkably easy to drink. It would do fine as an everyday whisky.

Score: 83/100

Value: N/A (Taiwan only)


Review: Two Brewers Innovative Yukon Single Malt by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Two Brewers, photographed by Michal Kostal.

Image courtesy of Two Brewers, photographed by Michal Kostal.

ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Two Brewers (Whitehorse, Yukon)

Two Brewers has an innovative line, alongside their classic, special finishes, and peated lines – in this line of products, they bring their brewing expertise to the table to generate unique expressions through the use of special brewing techniques during fermentation. This batch is the first in the innovative line, and it is brewed using a sour mash – where the spent mash (the remains of a previously fermented mash) is poured back into the fermenters of the next batch to increase the acidity in fermentation – originally done to help the yeast do their job better and sometimes to create sour taste profiles in beer. You see this everywhere with Kentucky bourbon, but rarely with single malts (at least I haven’t heard of any doing this) – so this is indeed unique.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Release 5
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: 2017

Vibrant fruit, and very reminiscent of the Two Brewers style. Interesting, though, with cinnamon coming in amidst the over-ripe banana, pineapple, guava, orange, and raspberry (yes, this is fruity!). Sweet roasted red pepper, dill, acacia honey, and even a light mineral backbone. The palate is surprisingly malty, but also with some spicy vegetal notes – dill, water cress, and arugula. Creamy porridge, too, with lots of cereal notes – which also I find all over the nose after I’ve taken a sip. Lightly sweet, but nicely balanced. The finish is lightly spicy, oaky, and still carrying sweet fruit notes. Another winner from Yukon!

Score: 86/100

Value: 60/100 (based on $75)


If I could only have 5 Canadian Whiskies... by Jason Hambrey

What would I chooose? Quite a decent what-if. For me, this will represent more or less my favorite Canadian whiskies with a decent spread of styles. If you haven't had them, these are all worth seeking out:

  1. Wiser's Legacy: I love blends which beautifully showcase rye. It's harder to see that more clearly than in this blend.
  2. Lock, Stock, and Barrel 16: Once this goes, I'll take Mastersons 10 Year Old Rye, but for now, this is better and so beautiful. A nice big rye.
  3. Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: A consistent favourite of mine, this whisky sits at the heart of many of the Crown Royal blends and is terrrific at its bottling strength of 51.5%.
  4. Gooderham & Worts: Such a beautiful representation of 4 grains each playing their part in a solid blend.
  5. Stalk & Barrel Cask Strength Rye: Perhaps for uniqueness. It is so different and so brilliant. The grassy spice and tea notes are glorious. Plus, cask strength is fun.

It was a hard cut for 5. It would have easily been Danfields 21, but, sadly, it is no more. I would have chosen Forty Creek Confederation Oak or Gibson's 18 if the batches were more consistent. Canadian Rockies 21 or Wiser's 18 were also quite tempting for some nice aged spirit but they don't quite have the uniqueness of the rye from Still Waters.

If I could only have 5, I'd be very happy with these...

Review: Mt. Logan 20 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
20 Years
Recipe
100% Corn
Distiller Alberta Distillers (Alberta)

Another classic, 20 year old, Canadian corn whisky, at a terrific price point (less than $60!). I don't know where else you can find such age at this price. It is a great flavour profile, but it is a particular profile - it's soft and elegant, not bold, high ABV, and spicy. But, given its time, it's excellent. I hear sometimes about these highwood corns that they are not great - I think that's more a comment on disliking the flavor profile rather than actual quality. These whiskies are terrific, and better than most of the Scotch grain whiskies (granted, only a few) I've tried which are often in a similar flavor camp. If you liked the Mt. Logan 15, this in my opinion is worth the extra money (as my value score reflects!). This is an exclusive offering by Liquor Depot and Wine and Beyond.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: 6119
  • Bottling Date: ~2016

Much more alive and complex than the 15, with deeper, richer, flavours. Again, it is similar to the typical Highwood old corn profile except it is a bit more rubbery, and a bit more licoricy. The rubbery note doesn’t mean poor – just slightly medicinal. Rich, earthy spices, maple, beeswax, prunes, and dried corn cobs. The nose is oaky and dry, which I quite like.  The palate follows suit – waxy, sweet, dry, spicy. It has a nice long flavor development and unfolding – very pleasant. Maple is quite key to the profile. Cedar, too...nice honey spice.

Definitely the star of the Mount Logan lineup. Not as rich, complex, fruity or as big as ninety 20 which also shows quite a bit more dried fruit - but grain is a bit less central there. It really goes down easy, perhaps easier than ninety 20...the light sweetness, dry finish, and smooth-ness really make it beg sip after sip. After my review, I read the Rum Howler's, who is in agreement.

Score: 88/100

Value: 86/100 (based on $55)


Review: Mt. Logan 15 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
15 Years
Recipe
100% Corn
Distiller Alberta Distillers (Alberta)

A 15 year old, 100% corn whisky sourced from Highwood Distillery for the Mt Logan brand, exclusive to Liquor Depot and Wine and Beyond. Highwood sources their corn whisky, so this is essentially a double sourced whisky.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: 6119
  • Bottling Date: ~2016

That is a classic highwood corn nose – waxy, sweet, and dry corn with lots of vanilla, honeycomb, maple, and beeswax. However, this is a bit different from the Highwood products in some of the spice distribution – it is a bit more rubbery, with more anise and licorice. The palate is lightly sweet, and slightly tannic – light dried corn, vanilla, clove, and anise – tingling spice, malt, pleasant corn, and wax on the end. Very easy. Overall, soft, quiet, and complex only in a particular flavor camp – sweet, woody, waxy, and sweet heavy floral (i.e. honey). Again, as with Mt. Logan 5, this would be a good base for subtle cocktails (which is not true of every whisky!). I suppose I should note that the Rum Howler disagrees with me, though.

Lightly rubbery on the finish. The dry spice on the finish ups the score on this one a full point.

Score: 84/100

Value: 72/100 (based on $45)


Review: Mt. Logan 5 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
5 Years; Ex-bourbon barrels
Recipe
100% Wheat
Distiller Highwood (High River, Alberta)

Mount Logan is a brand of sourced Highwood whisky, developed between Ryan Engen, the Director of Spirits at Liquor Depot and Wine and Beyond to create an exclusive, high quality brand of Canadian whisky. The lineup includes this 5 year old, a 100% Corn 15 Year Old, and a 100% Corn 20 Year Old - all sourced and developed alongside Highwood Distillery.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: 6119
  • Bottling Date: ~2016

A soft, sweet, and spicy nose, with maple, candle wax, cedar, oak, licorice root, and cola – it favors time. Baking spice, and a bit dusty. The palate is clean, light, and sweet with cream of wheat and a nice edge of spicy, vegetal, rye – mint, licorice root, cola. As an entry level whisky, this is great – easy, yet with subtle complexity – seemingly growing in body as you drink it. The finish is mainly on dry oak, pepper, and some clove – but, eventually, full of wheat. Definitely Classical Canadian in style.

It has the body and profile to mix quite well. I do like the dry and spicy finish, and the rye really lifts this one up.

Score: 84/100

Value: 82/100 (based on $30)


Review: Wiser's 18 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
18 Years in refill casks (that have been used at least three times)
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Canadian whisky is often made with a base whisky - usually a softer whisky to give body, typically made from corn - and flavouring whisky - spicy, flavourful, whisky which is often rye-heavy. This whisky, 18 years old, is made entirely of base whisky which is often thought of as bland - though you can see, here, that it is far from that. There can be a good bit of batch variation, as you will see below. But - this is quite the whisky. Much of the flavor comes from the wood - it is distilled to 188 proof (94%), and only aged in refill casks. Pretty phenomenal.


Review (2012)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: 2012

Nose: Fruity, woody rye comes in sharply at first. Plum, lots of vanilla, apricot, brown sugar, toffee, some maple syrup, along with other wood – cedar and pine. I think of brown sugar bubbling with cinnamon, and butter on sticky cinnamon rolls as I smell….It’s a touch creamy, and a touch bitter. Dark rye bread also comes off on the nose. There’s a fair bit going on. I do like the woodiness of the nose.

Taste: Full bodied, thick and smooth as a nice coating of oaky vanilla along with spice come onto the tongue. The rye comes on quite heavily too as the oak picks up and eventually wins the battle with a touch of bitterness. The mouthfeel is excellent. There are spices at the end alongside the oak that keep the tongue engaged. The interesting thing about the touch of bitterness is that it seems constructed. In other words, it plays its part in the taste but doesn’t stick around and linger and ruin anything. It is there, but is limited and doesn’t dominate. In that way, I enjoy it. Thick and woody, and not overly bitter for the amount of wood that is present. The spices! I love them. They change up a bit, and softly prickle the tongue delightfully. The spices alone have put this score up a percent or two….

Finish: A fairly clean finish with some depth to it. Vanilla, freshly baked light rye bread, brown sugar, slight citrus, and, of course, oak. As I drink more, I see more of the spices come through – cloves, pepper and some nutmeg. Even a bit of pear! Not sweet, soft pear – but when it’s hard and a few days from being ripe and sweet. It’s also fairly dry – I always like those finishes. It lingers, and despite the touch of bitterness on the palate the finish is without it (which is great). There’s a bit of what I might describe as starchiness which reminds me of the finish on Wiser’s small batch. As with the entire drink, oak reigns supreme.

Score: 88/100

Value: 77/100 (based on $70)


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: L140062204B
  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: Mighty in oak, fruit, and grain. Molasses is present, with the typical rum notes I find in the Wiser's products. Maple, caramel, orange peel, and light musty sesame seed like notes. Depth is certainly there, and it is pleasing. Spices, too, are present. Classic Wiser's.

Taste: It has a nice feel - candied orange peel and a large maple kick before developing spices carry the weight of the whisky into a lightly dry finish. That description perhaps gives it much more of a candied feel than it should convey - it is grain, spice, and wood heavy, overall, still holding on to those molasses notes. The smoke from the barrel char comes through nicely too. Very nice delivery.

Finish: An oaky, spice-laden finish with wheat-like grainy notes and some almonds and maple. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, star anise - all there. A bit of light bitterness unfortunately comes through. The elements, other than the bitterness, is quite nice - a plethora of spices which match well with the dry woodiness and light fruity suggestions. But the bitterness detracts quite a bit from this experience for me - it really doesn't help and drops this score a good bit.

Score: 85/100

Value: 58/100 (based on $70)

 


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: 2015

Led by the grain here- lightly creamy, and light in body balancing slightly oily grain (with a wheat character) with spice, vanilla-laden oak, and berries. The age, as usual, shows, with some leathery notes and distinctive dry, dusty grain - the brilliance flashed by that old whisky is my favorite part of this whisky. Very nice mouthfeel, and a good balance of grain, sweet, and tannic oak, leading into a slightly sour and spicy finish.

Score: 84/100

Value: 53/100 (based on $70)


Review (2016)

Batch: N/A

Bottling Code: 54SL24 L16287 EW16:06

Bottling Date: 2016

A classic, rich Wiser’s nose, full of wood and spice, with lots of maple, oak, beeswax, dried berries, leather, light molasses, and green apple peel. The nose this time is richer than I remember with the last batch. The spices are there, though they play around in the background rather than being upfront as with most Wiser’s whiskies. The palate carries on from the nose, with light fruits, lots of oak, and very light bitterness. The finish is full of rich corn, cinnamon, clove, and brilliant oak – at times maybe a bit too woody. If not for the slight bitterness, this would be a slight notch higher. Still, one of the better Wiser’s 18s I’ve had in a while (I tend to stock them to blend with) – the nose and finish are just spot on.

Score: 88/100

Value: 77/100 (based on $70)


Review: Glen Saanich Canadian Single Malt by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of De Vine Spirits.

Image courtesy of De Vine Spirits.

ABV
45%
Aging
18 Months; Quarter Ex-Bourbon Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller De Vine Vineyards (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

De Vine Vineyards recently put up a distillery and they started maturing single malt, with the first release making quite a splash with a Silver in the 2017 Canadian Whisky Awards and selling out quickly. Not yet a whisky, but they will be releasing 2 and then 3 year old version along with barrel finishes in time. However, they wanted to release a younger version to show the terroir and character of the whisky before the aging process adds and changes too much flavour.

This release was floor malted at the distillery by Mike Doehnel at Saanich, using local barley - the talk of malting on the web site is much more than just cheap talk. The bourbon barrels are sourced from Washington state.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 2016
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: 2016

Pleasing and complex on the nose with lots of hay, apples, cherry pits, menthol, apricot crisp, cherry pits, and baking spices. The palate is sharp initially with the grain and fresh peaches, before oak, smoke, pepper, and vanilla pudding take over and command the finish. The movement is wonderful! The palate is brilliant, but the nose needs a bit of work - it’s still a bit “green” and young – but very worthwhile.

Score: 87/100

Value: N/A


Review: J.P. Wiser's One Fifty Commemorative Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Wiser's 150.jpg
ABV
43.4%
Aging
16 Years
Recipe
Corn and Rye Whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Released to commemorate Canada's 150th Anniversary, Wiser's is continuing their impressive roll with this release - a blend of corn and rye whiskies which have been maturing since 2000 and before, split between new oak casks and refill casks. The base whisky was double distilled, with a small amount of column distilled rye which adds the underlying spicy character. One bottle was made to commemorate each week of Canada's 150 year history, with each bottle having a unique number and listing the week it is commemorating. A total of 7,827 bottles produced.

The whisky is made from 100% non-GMO Canadian grain. According to Wiser's, the 43.4% is selected to represent the strength of whiskies in the mid to late 1800s where the ABV was higher to prevent the un-chill filtered whiskies going cloudy (they go cloudy because fats can dissolve in alcohol. Thus, at lower strengths (or temperatures) these fats can precipitate out of the spirit and make it cloudy in appearance.)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: L17066EW1121 (bottle 6713, Week of Feb. 19 1996)
  • Bottling Date: ~2017

This is interesting – a classic spicy, woody Wiser’s nose – but also clean and light with a good kick of vanilla and char influence from the New Oak. It is similar in that regard to Wiser’s Union 52, and makes me wonder if Wiser’s limited releases are headed more in this particular direction – clean, spicy, slightly sweet, with lots of new oak (I would say Canadian new oak, it’s not like a bourbon oak overload). Somewhat of a cross between Wiser's Small Batch and Union 52, if you have to make a comparison. But, a crude comparison.

Anyway, to the tasting – pine, clove, cinnamon, vanilla, barrel char, mint, and some light earthiness. The grain notes play through nicely in this, and some nice porridge-y notes. We have some fruit too – sharp orange and some stewed apple and pear. The palate is sweet, oaky, spicy – lots of wood notes with cedar, pine, oak, and sandalwood – and mixed baking spices with old clove prominently. The finish is full of vanilla, oak, nutmeg, baking spices, and corn husks. Remains interesting, complex, and easy. Brilliant.

A great whisky, particularly for those that don’t know the category that well. It reminds me a bit of Wiser’s small batch, but a bit older and with more oak influence. A nice blending of the old with the new – fitting for Canada’s 150th!

Score: 87/100

Value: 83/100 (based on $50)