Review: Canadian Club Premium Canadian Whisky (Vintage) by Jason Hambrey

Canadian Club Vintage 1.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This is our Canadian Club premium, but the bottles are old - these are from tax stamped versions produced up until the 1990s. It’s pretty neat - theoretically it’s the same product, but the taste of course has changed.

The marketing at the time was that of “lightness” which was revered in whisky in the 70s and 80s - and not just whisky, it was also a key theme of marketing at the time. On the 1983 bottling, it says on the back: “The lightest of all Canadian whiskies. It is blended before barrelling to give Canadian Club a unique lightness and smooth flavour that’s known the world over. In 87 lands, Canadian Club has been the whisky of choice wherever people gather. However you enjoy Canadian Club, its light taste, international legacy of premium quality and distinguished tradition is very much a part of today.”


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Tax Stamp 1983, Stamp number A8894386

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

A really buttery nose, with a really nice, slightly dank earthiness (similar to what is found today) but this is much more rounded, fruity, and leathery than the modern stuff. More: Vanilla extract, beeswax, leather, peach jam, mixed nuts, apricot jam, and fresh beets with some dirt still on them. The vanilla almost smells artificial – it is quite poignant. The spiciness is more reminiscent to me of older Armagnacs than whiskies. The modern bottlings are altogether different – rougher, lighter, and not as broad or vibrant. The palate comes through quite buttery, but with a nice touch of earthy rye, leather, and more earthiness. The end is quite vegetal (it’s nice!). There is a nice grain character that comes through on the palate which isn’t present on the nose. The finish has vanilla and a very nice mix of stone fruit jams. There is a nice touch of earthiness and hot spice (chilli) on the finish, but there are still notes I associate with older whiskies – leather and some old wet wood chips.

Very nice! Substantially better than the modern stuff.

Highly Recommended (49% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: N/A


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Tax Stamp 1981, Stamp number A68198124

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

The nose is dry, oaky, and herbaceous with a decent dose of stone fruit – peach, prune, plum - and a bit of vanilla and rich earth. That earthiness seems present in CC, even to this day. There are brief touches of tropical fruit, too, but the nose is a bit shy. The palate is spicy, with nice orange undertones, oaky vanilla, raisins, white pepper, and baking spice too.  It finishes with prunes, spice, and some more rich earth.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: N/A


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Tax Stamp 1974, Stamp number A4943398

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

Now we are into 710 ml bottles.

This is very herbal, and quite a departure from the 1980s bottles. Dried and ground thyme, white pepper, toasting bread crumbs, dried lavender, light must, vanilla – and there’s something a bit soapy about it too. We have more – orange peel, dried savoury, and pencil lead.

The palate is quite light, with vanilla and more dried herbs. A very soft finish which is slightly woody, clean, and sweet. There is quite a nice mouthfeel, and it has a bit more of a porridge-like graininess than other CCs I’ve tried. It has a bit of the characteristic earthiness and spiciness of CC Premiums, but it isn’t as prominent. I found in earlier and later Canadian Clubs. The finish has a bit of a nice fresh grain character to it as well – barley, but also apple, thyme, and stale white pepper.

Not as broad as the CCs from the 80s. But, this one is integrated a bit better – I think, and it’s easier to drink. However, some of the notes are a bit odd - I wonder if it has spoiled in the course of its many years of storage.

It’s not good enough to fall in my “recommended” category, but I’d still give all the old whisky that you can find a go, if you find it.

Value: N/A


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Tax Stamp 1973, Stamp number D7324051

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

A 1.14 L bottle. Screw cap – I wonder if the larger bottles preserve the whisky better.

A very nice nose. Rich dark fruits, candied citrus peel, vanilla, prunes, white pepper, dry American white oak, orange peel, clove, and coco-cola. It almost has a bit of rum on the nose. The fresh orange zest is quite a nice touch. The palate has a nice core of vanilla and baking spice, but it’s surrounded with a nice grain character and more citrus. There is a light flash of rye at the end which is brilliant. The finish is oaky, grainy, and slightly sweet with a light molasses character and some vanilla. Very easy to drink, easy, and very nicely balanced.

Very nice stuff. I could have multiple drams of this in a row, if I lived solely by the desires of my tongue and nose.

Highly Recommended (49% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: N/A


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Tax Stamp 1971, Stamp number A9710103

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

This nose is again very herbal, full of thyme, oak, vanilla, light clean oak, pencil lead, and old white pepper. Orange, dried apricot, and dust – too. The palate is lightly sweet, with cola, licorice, pencil shavings, and some dark dried fruits. It still has a lot of dusty character, but also some unique notes – stale white flour and chocolate chip cookie dough (without the chocolate). The finish is sweet, with more dried fruit and a touch of clove, cinnamon, and dried apple!

It’s much more similar to the 1974 than anything else, but it isn’t quite as bitter or aggressive, and has a bit more elegance to it. But, then again, nothing like the 1973. As with the 1974, I wonder if it is spoiled - especially when the 1973 tastes so much better and doesn’t have the strong herbal notes. However, still drinkable.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: N/A


Review: Lot No. 40 Cask Strength Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Lot no 40 cs.jpg
ABV
55.0-58.4%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
100% Rye
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Here we have a rarity - a cask strength, 100% Canadian Rye whisky, well matured and released by a major producer. The only other bottle I can think of which fits into this category (so far) is Whistlepig's Boss Hog, an independent bottling from Alberta Distillers (though I must note that there are some notable young cask strength ryes from micro distilleries like Stalk & Barrel). Basically, it is the connoisseur's dream - this juice.  Given the splendor of the standard Lot no. 40, you'd expect this to do some good work too. Originally single casks of this were handed around at whisky festivals, but now we have an annual release - beginning in 2017 at a very commendable 12 years of age. The golden age of Canadian whisky is here!


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 05 05100 (55.8%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: June 2016

This sample was generously sent to me by Mark Bylok of whisky.buzz, who also reviewed this batch of Lot no. 40 CS.

Lots of onion pickle, in fact, in this tasting. Dill, floral rye, new wood, and lots of nuts - hazlenuts, walnuts, almond, clove, floral rye, black tea, terrific caramel, cinnamon, dried rose, dried hibiscus, praline, rosehip….

Brilliant tingling spices on the palate, with lots of spice, caramel, orange, clove, blood orange, cola, walnut…immense at cask strength and lots of rye! But it comes easy with lots of nut, tea, and oak notes surrounding. Some terrific dried floral notes too. Dries off in a huge, spicy finish still with lots of nuts and more light rye notes – almost jasmine-like in their floral nature - and cinnamon, tobacco, drying reeds in the fall, arugula, nut brittle, and some orange peel. Not to mention lots of continued floral notes. Not hard to drink and balanced at cask strength.

This is amazing – but I can only imagine a batch version. As it is, you can tell it is more of a single barrel given the profile and doesn’t quite have the breadth of complexity in some lot. No 40s, but it makes up for it with emphasis and magnitude.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I review to date get this recommendation or higher). To get a cask strength rye whisky of this complexity, depth, and breadth is just awesome.

Value: N/A (not available on the market)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 1st Edition (4968 bottles)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L17200 EW13:27

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What a whisky! What a nose. This is definitely Lot no. 40, and exactly what you would expect – a lot of punch and flavor! Coincidentally, natural colour too. Rich: caramel, lilacs, loads of spices, dried fruits, apricot, brioche, lilacs, clove, nutmeg, icing sugar...it gets better with air. The palate has lilacs, loads of rye, dried apricot, patchouli, cedar, dried apricot, black tea – wow. This batched version is better than the barrels I have tasted. The finish is loaded with rye and oak, along with dried fruit (prunes, raisins, dried apricot), cumin, lemon zest, orange peel (dried), icing sugar, fresh spinach, and a touch of dill.

This batch smells older and a bit more developed than the lot no. 40 which is on shelves now, though I think I’ve had a bad batch in my last bottle – but this still smells a bit more mature than the lot no. 40s on shelves now.  If you like Lot no. 40 (at all), you should buy this. Amazing whisky.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation). One of the best whiskies I’ve ever tasted - it’s mighty, complex, and incredibly moreish. If you want to see what great cask strength Canadian whisky can be, look no further than here.

Value: Very high. $70 CAD for something like this! Take a look at the best of the cask strength American ryes, as a comparator - you won’t find something to spar with this at this price (especially one with 12 years of age!).


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Second Edition (11 Years Old; 58.4%)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L18204 EW1325

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Very different than last year’s release (but still lot no. 40) - it came from a different bond, and each bond has different characteristics. It is very fruity – strawberries, cherries, plums, prunes, and green apple – but also with floral notes – lilac, spice, clove, loads of brown sugar and oak. There’s a nice caramelized nut characteristic too, verging on corn – like candied pecans or caramel popcorn. Rich, deep oak opens up as it sits. Gorgeous. The sweet nature of the oak really comes out too – it is a nice complement to the massiveness of the whisky everywhere else.

The palate is rich, oaky, fruity – tons of lilac and tons of spice. It’s what you expect from the nose – but the fresh fruit character, like strawberry jam that has just started to boil when you make it – is central and exceptional. Still, it’s tempered by loads of spice and oak. Really big, even with water added. Also, a bit less of a “grip” and movement on the palate compared with last year, even with a bit less ABV. But, still absolutely awesome.

Really nice tannins on the finish, and dries out really well. Spices slowly unfold, alongside dried fruit, green apple skins, and tannins. The more you drink, the bigger and better it gets. Lovely.

In comparison – last year’s release was more woody, richer, and heavier – and you get the full range of coconut and rich nut oils and black tea there which aren’t as big here. Think spicy/oaky /floral/fruity vs fruity/spicy/floral/oaky in terms of flavour impact. And the fruit is more vibrant – like fresh berries – vs say berry jam. This is still epic, but I liked the darker richer character last year – and it was a bit deeper.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I review to date get this recommendation or higher). This is still an outstanding bottle, but it doesn’t have the depth or integration to take it to the level that the 2017 release was. Still, outstanding - incredibly big, fascinating, rich, and deep.

Value: High. An increase in price still leaves this as an excellent value buy, but increases in price could change this in the future.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Third Edition (57%)

  • Bottling Code: 119204EW132

  • Bottling Date: 2019

75% of this whisky is aged in French oak, and we’ve now lost our age statement. 3554 bottles produced.

The notes on the nose are so typical of the brilliant, intense, and complex lot no. 40. It’s very oaky, -much more oaky than the previous two editions – and it does quiet the volume on a few of those notes. Floral lilac, fennel, dried apricot, dried peach, apple, toasted rye bread, toasted malt, and an intense, slightly bitter, woodiness. The creamy, vanilla-focused oakiness almost makes the nose buttery - like butter whipped up with sugar and a touch of vanilla. I just love the floral notes here – very dense, very intense – almost dried in character. Rich, bright, grain notes emerge as it sits. The French oak is present – it adds a really spicy, slightly floral characteristic.

The palate follows – deep fruit, deep oak, deep spice. It’s HUGE, and it takes you on quite a ride. A nice rich caramel characteristic bind together the floral, spicy rye and the sharp, tight wood notes. Slightly bitter with the oak. Lots going on, from tropical notes of dried mango and cardamom to floral notes of lilac and rose to spicy characteristics of nutmeg and fennel to grainy notes to charred and toasted oak notes. I thought I might prefer this with less water to tame the oakiness, but I actually think it is better balanced at cask strength. It’s still a bit buttery, and has a dry-aged steak type savouriness which is quite nice. The finish has a lot of heft and displays all of the characteristics of the palate – but the oakiness here makes its best mark – spicy, sweet, evolving, and drying. Excellent finish. My favourite finish of any of the past three releases.

An oak bomb, combined with a distillate which is big enough to play the sparring character. It has a more youthful edge than the previous two editions (but the extra oak plays into that also).

These days, oaky whiskies are a bit of a rage – so I imagine this will be right up some people’s alley. It’s a bit too much for me, but it’s still thoroughly enjoyable. I really like the core of it, but even watered down to 43% I still like the regular lot no. 40 more – but it’s because it has more oak than I prefer, even though I would say this is a better whisky.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). If you’ve never had this, you have to. Perhaps the most well-known cask strength rye in the world is Thomas Handy, but the Lot no. 40 CS is something I like more than most Handy releases – and I expect many would, especially rye-heads, if they could get their hands on it.

Value: High. My equations usually suggest this is in my “average” category but this is one of the few over-rides I give. Anyone who is serious about rye needs to try this stuff. I don’t like it as much as the previous years, but it is still awesome whisky which should be sought-out.

Curious about a second opinion? Check out Mark Bylok’s review at whisky.buzz


Review: Pike Creek 21 Year Old Double Barrel Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Pike Creek 21 Oloroso 3.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
21 Years; Finished in Various Barrels
Recipe
Double Distilled Corn Whisky & Rye Whisky
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This is part of the very impressive “Rare Range” (previously Northern Border) collection, and, in the "Pike Creek" tradition which highlights the impact of finishing. In 2017, the release was finished in a scotch cask sourced through a chivas regal connection (both Pernod Ricard). They also sent over some lot no. 40 casks, for their finishing purposes - so if you see a "rye finish" somewhere in the chivas family/distillery set, it's a good chance it's lot no. 40.

In 2018, the whisky was finished in a variety of different oaks. About 50% of this blend was finished in French oak - both Quercas Robor and Quercas Petrea, about 25% of the blend was finished in Hungarian oak from the danube forest region (seasoned for 36 months), while the remainder was American oak. Each type of oak has a different set of characteristics, and the flavour compounds vary significantly - for example, in one sample of wood, vanillin was the highest in French oak, 20% less in American oak, and 35% less in Hungarian oak. Similar analysis can be done for other flavours - almond, smoky notes, etc. The finishing regime here highlights the breadth of oak, and, the best part is that it still isn’t too oaky.

In 2019, now, they’ve used a cask often used in whisky - but not often at Hiram Walker distillery - an Oloroso Sherry cask, bringing in classic sherry notes of dried fruit, rancio, spice, and some caramel to the old spirit.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017 (Finished in a Speyside Malt Cask)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

It smells old! And, indeed, it is. A rich nose, that just develops. Not really the same thing at all as it’s younger brother, the 10 year old pike creek finished in rum casks – the brand is about finishing, not about necessarily having the same profile (as when they switched from port to rum casks, but kept the brand the same). Not nearly with the same buttery, brown sugar notes of the rum finish. In fact, though they’re part of the same brand, I wouldn’t really compare them at all.

The whisky is largely double distilled corn whisky matured in reused casks...e.g., what is in Wiser’s 18 Year old, but a bit older and finished in a Speyside malt cask (take a guess... a Speyside from Pernod Ricard – Wiser’s also sent over some Lot no. 40 casks for them to use in finishing, though I haven’t seen the result of this yet). However, there’s also a bit of rye added in this time too. But, from the nose to the finish, a different whisky than the 10 year old.

The nose has rich blueberry, mushy peas, green apple, white grape, corn oil, and some old oak. Maple, toffee, candied nuts. The palate is very clean – light grain, celery seed, prune, with a finish that is slightly dry and spicy – an ever so light touch of either earthy barley or peat. Nice mouthfeel. Ever so lightly bitter on the finish – as I have found with most Pike Creeks, in fact. The finish, though, is still bright and fruity – mulberries, spices, and dried fruit (raisins, apricot). Finish isn’t very long, but is nice and grainy while it sticks around. A very nice whisky – those old age notes present in this whisky are continuing to attract me, and this blows the other pike creeks out of the park.

An interesting pour beside Wiser’s 18. Much lighter, more elegant, refined, and less spicy. But, better...Don Livermore, the master blender, said if he were to have two whiskies to sip from the Northern Border collection, he’d have Gooderham Little Trinity and Pike Creek 21. Interesting.

Terrific whisky. Fun to see Canadian whisky stepping up its game.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 2018 Rare Range (Finished in European Oak Casks)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L18235EW1202

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Oaky, through and through – and it’s nice. But it’s not the bourbon sort of oaky, where it’s loaded with new wood. Also not the Scottish “too oaky” – it has a huge kick of oak, complex, but it still sits lightly above a fairly vibrant, aged corn whisky underneath. It’s very nice – there are nice grain notes lurking underneath, and rich spices – green cardamom, nutmeg, clove. If you like oak, but in a broad sense (i.e. not just heavily caramelized oak) you’ll love this.

The palate has dried fruits, light spice, and some jujube-like fruitiness at the centre – but oak sits overtop everything – like a freshly sawn pile of oak. Earthiness finds its way into the centre of the palate before tannins take over and we are left with light, sweet corn, spice, and white grape. Honey, too – and sweetness opposes the light oak quite nicely.

The finish has a rich, dried flurry of spice – a mixed old bag of baking spice (clove, white pepper, nutmeg, green cardamom) and a kick of dried fruit that slowly unpacks itself alongside some toasted almond.

Natural comparators are last year’s Pike Creek, or this year’s Seasoned Oak – a 19 year old whisky finished in seasoned oak. At a very basic level, this is more oaky, the seasoned oak is much more fruity and seems to have more influence from vibrant rye, and last year’s Pike Creek 21 has light barley overtones like Scotch (as one might expect) – think applesauce and green apple.

I like this a lot more than last year’s release (which was also great). Highly recommended. Also, I prefer the seasoned oak release, which is in a similar category (old finished corn whisky) but quite different.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019 Rare Range (Finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks)

  • Bottling Code: L19232EW1342

  • Bottling Date: 2019

This is finished in Oloroso sherry casks, and there are only 4481 bottles produced.

It definitely as a reddish hue from the sherry. No more twine on this bottle – I guess we are headed for a more elegant look.

Rich, woody, old age whisky aromas with a very pleasant fruitiness from the sherry. I was a little worried that the whisky would be too strongly influenced by sherry – not so! It’s quite well integrated. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised – old, light corn whisky would just get choked completely out by big sherry.  We have the usual, ethereal notes – but now lots more fruit and sherry-caramel: vanilla, light rum, apple seeds, and a really nice oaky earthiness – I guess a bit like decomposing, wet, wood that crumbles in your hand.

The palate is big and woody, with a load of dried fruit coming in near the mid-palate, followed by freshly cut wood and finally some oxidized wine notes. Largely the notes are as expected, but I find the texture is interesting - it’s quite woody with a good dose of structure from the tannins, but it also has a syrupy sweetness from the sherry. The finish is oaky, slightly tannic, with rich caramel-like sherry and some oxidized wine notes. Nicely done! With time, the wood dies out and the sherry remains – and it’s very nice. Tingly tannins keep you reaching for more, which I always like (until the bottle is done!).

Quite a nice effort. I find I prefer it without added water, which just brings out the woodiness even more – but a drop or two to bring it to 43% works well. I don’t know if sherry is the perfect match for the spirit – but it’s just about exactly what I want from a special release – a variation on the theme of Pike Creek while doing something different that pushes the boundaries a little. That being said, it’s a very good match nonetheless and I quite like what it does to the spirit. I’d love to see a first-fill ex-bourbon finish one of these days, but perhaps that would be too sweet.

It took me a few times to nail this review and decide what I thought - which isn’t typical, and is always a good thing – because I feel I need multiple assessments to actually cover the range of what is in the glass.

 I quite liked what they did last year with the various oaks, and I thought that release was brilliant and very interesting. This, obviously, is less wood-focused and has a very different focus, and may appeal to nostalgic scotch drinkers very well. My favourite Pike Creek to date, and my favourite of the Rare Range/Northern Border Collection this year.

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High. $90 for 21 years of age, well crafted, and complex? Yes please.

Curious about another review? Check out Mark Bylok’s review on Whisky.Buzz.


Review: Gooderham & Worts 49 Wellington 19 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Gooderham & Worts 49 Wellington (2).jpg
ABV
49%
Aging
Various Casks
Recipe
Wheat, Rye, Barley & Corn, Whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Now here is something unique - a blend to honour the original HQ of Gooderham & Worts at 49 Wellington st. in Toronto - made with a blend of various whiskies including some matured in red oak! This is something that isn’t often seen, and it’s the first bottling I’ve tasted using red oak. When I was at Hiram Walker a few years back, I got to taste some whisky made out of red oak casks (they didn’t leak, surprisingly!) - it was quite unique and I remember thinking it had a brown rice characteristic which was a bit unique.

But, enough about just the red oak - this stuff is 19 years old and a blend of 4 different grains with a bit of focus on wheat. However, wheat is still one of the “small grains” here, with corn being dominant.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 49 Wellington (2019 Rare Range)

  • Bottling Code: L19225EW1326

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is very rich – sweet caramels, a grain character, biscuits, shortbread, oat cookies, and a bit of brown rice. I actually find the nose difficult a bit elusive, in part because it’s relatively light -  but it’s clear that there is lots there as in previous years and it does open up in the glass. I tackled this in multiple glasses and multiple tastings.  Sweet biscuits, whole wheat noodles, vanilla, clove, baking spices, pine, macadamia nuts, cream of wheat, apple, oak, light earth, maple (it really grows with time), and a nice savouriness. Cleaner and more refined than last year’s excellent Eleven Souls.

The palate is very rich and viscous with a light thread of spice and tannin for a good bit of structure. There is creamy butter icing, light oak, dried apricots, plums, orange zest, and a nice wheat finish which is incredibly soft and delicate. Quite grain forward, but very elegant and subtle. Lots of maple, once again.

Black tea notes, macadamia nuts, and dried fruit notes come out in the finish alongside toasted oak notes and some apple seeds. A very pleasant tingle, too.

Is it perhaps too easy to drink? This is so clean and simple at first glance that one might forget to look under the hood and see everything that is there.

I like this more than the first Gooderham northern border release, but it’s a toss up as to whether I like it more than the eleven souls (as with many whiskies, it’s a mood thing).

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). Very nice stuff.

Value: Average. But if you’re anything like me, you’re curious about what red oak does to a whisky and that’s pretty rare…

Curious about a second opinion? Check out Mark’s review at whisky.buzz.


Northern Border Collection 2019: Corby’s Rare Range is Inspired by Consumers by Jason Hambrey

Northern Border Collection.jpg

Fall is always a peak time for whisky. As the weather cools, the limited releases start to roll out as we all tuck in for winter and arm ourselves with a few fireside drams. Forty Creek, perhaps, started the Canadian fall releases with their acclaimed limited bottlings under John Hall’s guidance. Forty Creek continues the tradition – this year with their limited release Victory – but we have others in the mix like the Canadian Club 42-year-old and Alberta Premium’s cask strength and 20 year old release. Add to that a load of micro-distillery limited bottlings which are made available locally, if not nationally.

The most exciting set of Canadian whisky in the past three years has been the set of releases from Corby’s over the past four years. They portray just what you want in a limited release – a variation on the theme of the brand. What makes this set unique in Canada, though, is that it is a variation on the theme of multiple brands and not just one – Pike Creek is focused on the effect of finishes, J.P. Wiser’s is corn forward with a dash of rye (usually), Gooderham & Worts  is made from multiple grains and multiple stills, and Lot no. 40 is the “unapologetic”, intensely flavoured, 100% rye whisky.  But, every year, the limited editions are more than just a variation on the themes – they are a substantial step up in age and ABV.

This year, perhaps as always, the headliner might be Cask Strength Lot no. 40, coming in at 57%. The whisky itself, made with 100% rye, comes initially from re-used Canadian oak barrels and new American oak barrels. Then, 75% of the barrels were finished in French oak, meaning that most of the whisky in the bottle has seen new oak, twice. Don Livermore, the master blender at Hiram Walker, said the decision was based on his observations during his consumer blending classes at the distillery. The French-oak finished rye was such a hit that, in his words, he had to “listen to the audience”. It is Livermore’s favourite of the bunch.

With the Gooderham & Worts “49 Wellington” release, the blenders went nuts using red winter wheat , malted barley, and – of course – old corn whisky. This, combined with a variety of barrels - amber rum barrels, new American oak, re-used Canadian whisky casks, and casks with red oak inserts to give a distinct cedary taste (“you love it or hate it” says Livermore). As far as I’ve tasted, this is the first whisky I’ve had with any red oak maturation - white oak is the ubiquitous species used in whisky and spirit maturation. “49 Wellington” is clocking in at 19 years of age and 49% ABV.

Pike Creek is a 21 Year old is a corn whisky with a bit of rye added to it, finished in Oloroso sherry casks. While common in the Scotch industry, sherry casks aren’t used commonly in Canada (or at the home of the brand, the Hiram Walker distillery). It sits at 45%, and it’s actually my favourite of the bunch this year.

Wiser’s has also released their flagship older whisky – 35 years in the first two releases – but now at 23 years of age. This year it is in the bottle at a whopping cask strength of 64.3% ABV, a very rare example of a cask strength blend. The 23-year-old release was chosen for two reasons – 1) Don Livermore has worked at the distillery for 23 years, and 2) cask strength concentrates some of the old-age notes in Canadian whisky to such a degree that they can be a bit overpowering. Thus, a 23-year-old is a bit less aggressive in this regard than a 35-year-old. I’ve tasted a few old Canadian corn whiskies at cask strength myself, and I prefer them with a bit of water (even though I generally love cask strength whiskies). So, why release at cask strength at all? Livermore’s response, as before, was that he has been listening to the “wisdom of the crowd” in blending classes and whisky festivals. And he has decided to give those consumers what they want. Now there is a responsive brand - cheers Corby!

Review: Summer Breeze Pastis (North of 7 Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Image copyright by North of 7 Distillery. Used with Permission.

Image copyright by North of 7 Distillery. Used with Permission.

ABV
45.5%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Distiller North Of 7 (Ottawa, Ontario)

Micro-distilleries often produce some rather unique, tailored products - and here is a new one from Ottawa, a pastis., which is a licorice flavoured whisky commonly consumed in France with water. Like absinthe, you typically get a “louche” which is a cloudy appearance when you add water due to substances which are soluble in alcohol but not water (and as you add water, there is less alchol to dissolve the substances - hence the precipitation and cloudy appearance.

My experience with pastis is limited to the few major brands which make it over to Canada, so I was eager to see this as I haven’t explored much of the spirit - and because the quality surprised me.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose, of course, is full of star anise - but what I love about this is the complexity of the other elements surrounding it - grapefruit, cinnamon, clove - these fit in so well with the star anise. Without adding any water, the entire nose is intense and powerful - and quite attractive.

The palate follows the nose, but there is a really nice spicy influence balanced with the sweet anise and the sharp citrus. I am by no means a pastis connoisseur, but this is a significant step up from Ricard! The balance of the spices and citrus with the star anise is just perfect. Long, spicy finish. It’s good with water, but also quite nice at the 45.5%.

If you add water, you get a nice louche, but it isn’t the green character rather you have a more natural spicy brown.

Assessment: Highly recommended - if you like licorice. If you don’t, you won’t like this…


Review: North of 7 Canadian Whisky (Four Grain) by Jason Hambrey

Image copyright by North of 7 Distillery. Used with Permission.

Image copyright by North of 7 Distillery. Used with Permission.

ABV
45%
Aging
3 Years; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
51% Corn, 26% Wheat, 12% Rye, 12% Barley
Distiller North Of 7 (Ottawa, Ontario)

An Ottawa whisky (I am an Ottawa native, so I'm interested!) - made in a bourbon profile - made largely from corn, matured in New Oak, and using a four grain mash bill. North of 7 was perhaps the last craft distillery to get a contract with Independent Stave Company - the renowned maker of barrels for renowned Kentucky Distillers like Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam, and Heaven Hill. Because of the whisky boom, they won't take any more clients! All that to say, North of 7 has some pretty good casks...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Cask 1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose has a nice grainy base with lots of caramel and a grassiness reminiscent of spicy pot still Iriish whisky. Vanilla, anise, methol, sharp new oak, corn husks, butterscotch, cucumber, and lots of grain notes – wheat flour, nutty grain, polenta, and light grainy earthiness. Surprisingly wheaty – cream of wheat comes through quite clearly. The youth of the nose is present, with a bit of rawness on the otherwise pleasant and grain-forward nose. The palate is corn and oak forward, with a light caramel rumble before a spicy and grain-laden finish. The anise is present throughout, and the spicy finish is lightly creamy with butterscotch – for good effect. They emphasize their casks, from Independent Stave Company (who also supply Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, and most of the other successful distilleries in Kentucky) – and for good reason. These casks will treat this whisky well, given a few more years.

Based on the mash bill and how it is matured, you might be expecting a bourbon. It’s reminiscent of the style – but it’s not. Either it is simply not warm enough in Ottawa, or it needs more time – but that is of no matter. A thoroughly enjoyable whisky, this, and shows lots of potential as the years will add on.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (based on $60)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Cask 2

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Centred on grainy notes, reminiscent of spicy mixed grain porridge, yet still with quite a bit of orchard fruit – peach and pear. Wheat really comes out. Tangy, too – the light bits of menthol, pineapple, and oak that play in nicely. Maltesers, milk chocolate, vegetal cacao, and a touch of green cardamom too. The oak and the grain are both so rich with this one – nice…

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (based on $60)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Cask 3

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

This now has more prominent notes suggesting wheated bourbon, which I didn’t get in the previous cask. Corn, vanilla, confectioner’s sugar, grape, light floral rye, clove, pear, toasted hazlenuts, blanched almonds, green tea, and a grainy, porridge-like character. There’s a sharp yeasty note too.  It really has come on – it makes me quite interested to know what this will taste like at 6+ yrs. The palate is lightly sweet, with a toffee backdrop with the grainy notes, coconut, and ripe banana on top. The finish has prune, cacao, lots of nuts, clove, and other baking spice. Lightly earthy, too, on the finish – nice touch.

There are still a few harsh notes which I expect to get ironed out as it gets older – but this is coming along well! These also lift off as the bottle is open a bit.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (based on $60)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Cask 6

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Dried tarragon! Interesting that on this pass of the North of 7 whiskies there are more dried herbs coming out.  Oak, milk chocolate, vanilla, pineapple juice, caramel, macadamia, dried mint, freshly sawn pine, hazlenuts, fennel seed, toffee, and lemon. There’s corn, too....it might sound a bit diverse but it’s integrated together well. A nice nose! Perhaps the best I’ve had yet from the distillery. There is one note which I don’t quite know what to do with – a slightly sour, almost yoghurt like quality. It’s quite savoury, and I can’t tell if I like or dislike it.

The palate is full of mixed cereal, fresh oak, and sharp spices on the herbal side like fennel. Oak is present, but isn’t at the center – it seems to contribute quite a bit of structure and tannins, though. Dried fruits too – the usual suspects – apricot, peach, pineapple. It has a light-medium creaminess. The finish is drying and tannic, with spices, dried fruit, hazlenuts, and a spicy character like the feel of cayenne.

Better than the batch above but not quite enough yet to bump it another point. Its youth still shows through, and as this mellows out more I imagine it’s not far off an upgrade...

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (based on $60)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Cask 8DB

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

This one’s quite a bit different – it’s the four grain recipe but it’s been matured for 6 months in new oak. If the standard north of 7 is like hazlenuts or almonds, this is like decadent pecan in terms of nutty richness. Rich oak (think oaky bourbon), pine cones, celery seed, and toasted fennel seed. The usual complexity is very much so masked by oak. North of 7 makes whisky in the bourbon style, but it doesn’t taste like bourbon – the oakiness of this is approaching bourbon, but it is still quite grain (other than corn) centric.

The palate is oaky and tannic. Mixed porridge, dried apricot, rich fresh oak, light wood smoke, pencil shavings, and a bigger oaky creaminess. The oak is a bit too much here, with the tannins and a slight astringency taking it past a point of balance, but just a bit. Drying spices taking the finish, accompanying white grape, dried apricot,

The oak is the centre, here, and no sufficient counterbalance is offered – and the rich grainy character from the distillery is lost. That being said, I like the extra oak and probably a bit less time in the second barrel would have done a trick.

I actually like to mix this one with barrel 6 to tone down some of the oak. I like a ratio of 25% barrel 8 to 75% barrel 6. I find the mix better than either on its own!

Value: Low. All their other casks are better, and this is a bit much for this unless you really like oak!


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Cask 5

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

It’s coming up on 5 years of age now, and this is delicious!

Lovely dried fruits have come out, and it is very much a corn forward whisky with a balance of grain, berry notes, brown sugar, toffee, honey, and oak. The oak is beautifully integrated. It also grows quite nicely with time in the glass.

The palate is sumptuous, and this makes it very easy to drink. Again, there is a nice bright, berry-like fruitiness which contrasts with the corn and oak which grows through the palate. There is a really nice earthiness which is present through the whisky too – brilliant. It really seems to have come of age. The finish is sweet, easy, with oak, grain, a touch of toasted fennel, wet hay, and dark toffee. It has rounded out quite nicely and gained a lot of depth compared to my most recent batches.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). One of the best Canadian whiskies I’ve tried this year from a small distiller, and the best I’ve had from North of 7. . It’s perhaps a little too easy to drink…

Value: High. It’s very rare for a small distiller to break into this category, but this in my opinion is a great whisky for $60.


Review: North of 7 Rye Canadian Whisky (North of 7 Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Photo provided by North of 7 Distillery.

Photo provided by North of 7 Distillery.

ABV
45%
Aging
3 Years; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
100% Rye (95% Unmalted, 5% Malted)
Distiller North Of 7 (Ottawa, Ontario)

This is North of 7’s rye whisky, matured in new oak. One of the owners, Jody, was telling me that the whisky tasted terrible a few months short of three years and has drastically improved (to which I attest) as it gets to a number of months beyond three years. It is a combination of 95% unmalted rye, with 5% malted rye - matured in nice casks sourced from Independent Stave Company in Kentucky/Missouri.

All the grain, notably, is from Against the Grain farms, a neat local farm which works extensively with heirloom varieties.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 1 (Barrel 10)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

This noses like a sharp rye – frankly, I’m surprised, given the age and that it's the first rye product from the distillery. Loads of sharp floral and spice notes, alongside cola, toffee, vanilla, charred wood, and grassy spice. Lilac, baking bread, fennel, mint – it is remarkable that they have managed to attain such a sharp rye character and yet such a broad grain characteristic, in the same whisky. There’s one or two off notes – but it gets better in the glass.

 The palate brings in more grain character and some milk chocolate, but still carries the sharp spices in tow. The finish is grain-driven, but also carrying fruit. Without some of the off-notes, this would creep up a bit higher.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (based on $60)


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Barrel 18

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Sharp, woody, spicy aromas on the nose. Very appealing, particularly if you like rye. There is some really nice dried fruit here – currants, prunes – and also some red pepper jelly, white pepper, cedar, pine, and toasted multigrain bread. The woody, piney characteristic is very nice.

The palate is sharp and spicy, with a nice character which is quite reminiscent of oat. A really nice woody edge, to all of it. The grainy character in North of 7 is so central, and I quite like it. The finish is slightly dry, with more oats, sweet oak, clove, and some woody cinnamon. Nice!

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This one has come together better than the other batches I’ve tried. It’s quite good – although I would still be interested to see it with a bit more age on it, and a higher ABV.

Value: Average, but we are nearly at the high value category here.


Review: Shelter Point Single Cask Quail's Gate Foch Reserve Finish by Jason Hambrey

Shelter+Point+Foch+Finish+2.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
Finished in Quail's Gate Foch Reserve Wine Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Shelter Point (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

Marechal Foch is not a common wine for the table, but they grow quite a bit of it in BC. It is originally a hybrid grape variety originating in France, but it often has a really intense characteristic. It’s grown in Loire, in France, but you see it more often in North America and there are a number of BC producers. I’ve had a few foch wines, and I often have thought that they might make good whisky casks. Well, here we are!

This was a limited single cask bottling, with only 228 bottles produced from the barrel and released in 2019.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Single Cask Release No. 2

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

At the nose – we have what is very much a shelter point single malt.  I do like what the wine casks do to the spirit. Brown sugar, blackberries, currants, black cherries – but also some dried peach, baking spice, and dried ginger. A nice dried cherry note, too. Relatively bright for a finished shelter point, with a softer fruit and oak character. It softens with time. The palate is full of fruit- almost “juicy” but also has toffee, dried ginger, brown sugar and a bit of wine tannins. Baking spice builds into the finish. Lots of spices on the palate.

It’s good both without water and with a drop or two. It softens and opens up, but loses a bit of its (nice) edge with water so it’s a tradeoff.

I can’t resist but compare to the double barreled with the pinot noir cask, which is a bit richer, darker and denser (not always a good thing). This is quite a bit lighter in colour. I find the double barreled oakier, spicier, and bigger with more of a dried fruit characteristic. This single barrel focuses more on lighter fruit – stone fruit and berries. Oddly enough, I would have thought the casks – pinot noir and foch, would have given the whiskies the opposite of the characteristics that they achieved.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). this is very nice, and a nice example of what a single barrel can do.

Value: Average. A pretty good price for a pretty good whisky, competing against all whiskies. If single malts are your thing, this is a better than average value buy in my opinion.


Review: Fuyu Blended Japanese Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Distiller N/A

This whisky has shown up in Ontario and Quebec, and very little is known about it. That always makes me a bit nervous with Japanese whisky, which is quite unregulated - you can blend other types of whisky (like Scottish or Canadian) together in Japan and still call it Japanese whisky. This, however, is partly (if not all) from Japan. The Japanese whisky scene, in Canada at least, has never been big but has taken a sad turn in the last few years with more brands popping up but of questionable quality.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

This actually smells rather Canadian to me- like some of the cheaper corn-heavy, lightly spicy blends with notes of white pepper, orange peel, coriander, clove, and some dried chickpeas. The palate is spicy, a bit dry, and a bit sweet. Overall, it’s fairly light in body. The finish remains spicy, a touch sweet, with a bit of oak and more dried citrus peel coming through. It has a relatively short finish. The spiciness and dry-ness are mildly appealing as you drink more.

I wanted to review this in part to say this:  I don’t think it’s a good expression, nor necessarily very representative, of good Japanese whisky. There are lots of newcomers to Japanese whisky who might, upon seeing a nicely packaged Japanese whisky for $70, jump at the chance. But, it’s not something I’d pay $70 for, nor would recommend. It’s an analog for what I see often with Canadian whisky – Canadian whisky is often not available overseas and the expressions available are not representative of the styles and whiskies I’d recommend.

Value: Low. 70$ is a lot to pay, especially when I could recommend some similar profile Canadian whiskies which are better and cost $25.