Top 25 whiskies of the past decade by Jason Hambrey

I’ve been writing about whisky now for nearly 10 years, and I’ve been reviewing and following the Canadian whisky scene very closely for a bit more than a decade. In that time, I’ve been able to taste most Canadian whisky on the market - I reviewed and rated over 600 unique Canadian whisky labels (e.g. discounting re-reviews of brands) since 2013. Here are my all-time favourites.

1. Lock, Stock & Barrel 16 Year Old 100% Rye

I’ve never had a whisky that so deftly combined fruit, spice, oak, earth and endless complexity so well. This is my favourite whisky of all time - one that combines the best of complexity, rye spice, oak, fruit, complexity, and depth. Unbelievable stuff, and, no suprise, from Alberta Distillers.

Read my review here.

2. MISTER SAM TRIBUTE WHISKY

I am cheating a bit here, since this is a blend of Canadian and American whiskies. This has all the hallmarks of BOTH the best of Canadian and American whiskies - complexity, depth, oak, fruit, big flavours. I’ve never had a whisky like this - it presented itself in the style of an American whisky but it had all the depth of the Canadian blending tradition. Incredible.

Read my review here.

3. Canadian Club 45 Year Old

This was a runaway winner for me in the 2023 Canadian Whisky Awards and represents the pinnacle of blending. I could spend hours with the glass. I haven’t published a review, so I’ve posted tasting notes below. Incredible stuff:

The nose is truly decadent. Blueberries, leather, beeswax, corn husks, old and faded oak, earthy notes from a dry farmer’s field, vanilla, and the top notes are just so bright and deep. The palate is pure, clean, and rich – lovely corn, sweet vanilla, slightly bracing oak (but not very oaky), and an ever so subtle savoury richness. There is a lot of complexity and depth that I don’t have words for, despite years of writing tasting notes with loads of descriptors. The finish is light oak, beeswax, vanilla, corn husks, and leather. Slight tannins build on the finish. This is age doing its finest work.

4. J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old (2017)

This whisky burst on to the scene and immediately catered to the best of connoisseurs - it included a brilliant blend of earthy, spicy rye, and was bottled at 50% for intensity of flavour- well above the standard 40%. This whisky is brilliantly balanced, rich, and astonishingly deep. There is nothing like it.

Read my review here..

5. Canadian Club 40 year old

This whisky kicked off the 40+ year Canadian Clubs and it was astounding. It immediately set the standard for the best “super-aged” whisky and was just pure delight. A pure example of what age does to a whisky.

Read my review here.

6. Forty Creek Evolution

The only whisky I’ve ever had which seduced me to nose it for an uninterrupted 3 hours before I tasted it! The best nose I’ve ever had on a whisky, and it continued to evolve dynamically with every minute. Forty Creek isn’t producing this quality any more, but the quality of the early 2010s was jaw-dropping!

Read my review here.

7. crown royal hand select single Barrel

In my view, the most under-appreciated whisky in recent Canadian whisky history. Crown Royal

“Coffey Rye” is distilled in an old Coffey still and is one of the most remarkable spirits in the world, hands down - extremely bright, confectionary, deep, and complex. It is the heart of so many Crown Royal blends and for a time it was released as a single barrel product at 53.5%. My favourite batch was the one selected by Davin De Kergommeaux - some of the others were great, but not quite the same. this was awesome stuff.

Read my review here.

8. MAsterson’s rye - batch1

This is my favourite batch of Masterson’s, an independent bottler of the most intense distillate from Alberta distillers- widely acknowledged as the best rye distillery in the world. This is intensely floral, medicinal, oaky, spicy, herbal - and all in perfect balance. An astounding whisky.

Read my review here.

9. Hochstadter’s family reserve 16 year old

This is produced by Maple St. Spirits, the same company of Lock, Stock, and Barrel 16 year old rye. This was a cask strength rendition of that awesome rye. Truly awesome - unbelievable compexity, from herbal to medicial to floral to spicy to oaky notes. It is one of the biggest,best, and most significant examples of Canadian rye.

Read my review here.

10.crown royal noble collection 16 year old rye

Some Noble Collection releases have been forgettable, but some have been unforgettable, including this 16 year old rye. A real “wow” whisky.

Read my review here.

11. forty creek confederation oak (batch A&B)

I’m cheating a bit here, since batch A and batch B were different whiskies - with batch B being my favorite - but they would be 11 and 12 if they weren’t combined. Forty Creek had a terrific idea to combine their single-grain whiskies in a Canadian oak cask, made from a fall tree that started its life around the start of Canada. Canadian oak is full of vanillins and a dense grain structure because of the cold weather. The result was brilliantly complex, particularly in the early batches. It has degraded since then, I wouldn’t even recommend the bottling now.

Read my review here.

12.crown royal noble collection winter wheat

The winner of the 2022 Canadian Whisky Awards, this one blew me off my chair when I tried it. I figured it would be soft and perhaps a bit boring since it is built around wheat - however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. To quote my own review: “It not only slows you down with all its complexity, but it leaves you with a craving for a bit more every time you finish a dram. I love it”

Read my review here.

13. lock, stock, and barrel 18 year old

A slightly older version of the 16 year old which I love so much. However, it didn’t quite have the vibrancy of the 16 - age dulls some things, from time to time. Still, jaw-dropping whisky.

Read my review here.

14. lot no. 40 cask strength 12 year old

This was just about everything rye-fans hoped and dreamed of. One of the best ryes I’ve ever tasted, Buffalo Trace Antique Collection included (this could have slotted in there). They also released a fantastic 11 year old the following year but it didn’t quite have the depth to make it on my list here. 12 years old, cask strength, 100% rye, and full of fruit, spice and oak. Truly brilliant.

Read my review here.

15. canadian club 43 year old

Just fantastic, perhaps the richest of the 40+ year old Canadian Clubs.

Read my review here.

16. masterson’s rye - batch 3

I won’t add too much to the above - needless to say, Masterson’s selected another great set of casks. This was the batch that was Jim Murray’s third best whisky of the year in his Whisky Bible in 2015. I’ve never been much of a fan of Murray, but he did spot this one well.

Read my review here.

17. canadian rockies 35 year old

This whisky seems to get forgotten, often, among the discussion of the best Canadian whiskies. It is perhaps not surprising, given that the whisky was very limited. It was a single cask, divided between some 50% ABV whisky and only 30 bottles at cask strength. The cask strength bottles were released at an eye-popping 79.1%!!! I was priveleged to taste a sample of the rare liquid, after the 3 oz sample had passed through both Davin De Kergommeaux’s and Blair Phillips’s hands. It wasn’t even spirity at 79.1% - incredible.

Read my review here.

18. J.P. Wiser’s 35 year old (2018)

This was another stunner - an old corn whisky rounded out with a touch of rye. It was incredible, but couldn’t match the rye complexity and depth of the 2017. Huge, complex, intriguing, and a drinker that will reveal more and more with each sip.

Read my review here.

19. two brewers release 33

Two Brewers, a single malt producer in Yukon, makes some of Canada’s best whisky - indisputably. If they were anywhere in Scotland you would never be able to find a bottle, anywhere. I’ve never seen a small distillery compete with the best whisky in the world so humbly, and so readily.

I’ve tasted all of Two Brewers 35 releases to date. Not a single one has been bad, indeed, not a single one has been anything other than great. 33 is my favourite to date - it featured well-aged casks and utilized roasted grains to bring great richness to the whisky. Their spirit is so fruity, yet, they’ve been able to incorporate an astonishing amount of different flavours into the spirit well.

If you are intrigued, read any of my Two Brewers reviews: Classic, Peated, Special Finishes, and Innovative.

20. J.P. Wiser’s legacy

This one is now long-gone, but for a long time it stood as a classic blend - big, rye forward, immensely complex and also available and affordable. It stood as one of the best Canadian whiskies, year over year, and it wasn’t a special release or inaccessible. You could taste it even after a Laphroaig Quarter Cask and it won’t get lost, and will raise an eyebrow…

I continued to sing its praises while we had it. A shame it was shut down.

Read my review here.

21. canadian rockies 21 year old

I think this is an under-appreciated bottling. It is always solid, representing some of the best selection of casks of old Canadian whisky courtesy of the lovely Highwood Distillery. The waxiness, leather, and berry notes represented all the benefits of aging corn whisky a long time. Awesome stuff.

Read my review here.

22. j.p. Wiser’s Union 52

Remember that time that Wiser’s added a 52 year old highland scotch single malt to one of their blends? Well, it really did the trick.

Read my review here.

23. crown royal noble collection 13 year old blender’s mash

Crown Royal distills 5 spirits, one of which is in the style of a bourbon with a mashbill of 64% corn, 31.5% rye, and 4.5% barley. It is an incredible product, and one we rarely get to see in a raw state. Until, years ago, they released a small amount of 13 year old which puts most bourbon to shame and would be in the list of my all-time favourite bourbon if it was distilled in the USA in order to qualify…

Read my review here.

24. shelter point the collective

Shelter Point, a small distillery on Vancouver Island, makes some of Canada’s best whisky. They have a distinct savoury and distinct character that lends a terrific and complex house style to their single malts and other whiskies. My favorite whisky to date from them was a blend of 5 casks, each chosen separately by five different shelter point staff. The casks included wheat whiskies, single malts, and unmalted barley whiskies and included some finishing in ex-Laphroaig cask. The whisky was unique and fantastic.

Read my review here.

25. north of 7 single barrel cask strength - cask 25

One of the highlights of my whisky involvement/career/life to date has been getting to know my local distillery, North of 7, that stands as one of the best small distilleries in Canada (in my view, as objectively as I can- supported by blind competitions). A few years ago, they permitted me and a group of friends to buy a cask of whisky and decide when we wanted to bottle it. We picked the cask when it was 4 years old and each year, we retasted it. I didn’t like it at 4 years, indeed, very few people did. But, we chose it because of complexity and potential. And, indeed, it had it - after a year, it was quite good. After 2 more, it was stunning. Not only is the whisky fantastic (creamy, spicy, grainy, oaky), it was ours and we got to play a role in selecting the barrel and chose when to bottle it. Every year, people asked if they could increase their order!

I didn’t review, but if you are ever in Ottawa - shoot me an email and you can experience it yourself…

Honorable Mentions

Initially, I was going to do a top-10 list but there were may too many whiskies. But I still can’t end the list here….honorable mention to Lot no. 40 which did a lot to bring Canadian whisky to the forefront of big connoisseur whiskies - indeed, it was so important that it was the first blog post on this site. It isn’t what it used to be pre-2014 (more demand, younger…), but it’s still classic.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye has been big, complex, delicious, and great value ever since it was released. It is outstanding still today, and it isn’t expensive. J.P. Wiser’s released the classic rye-forward Dissertation and a cask strength 23 year old bomb which was huge, complex, and intriguing. And some others flew under the radar, like the waxy and leathery Century Reserve Single Cask 30 year old bottled for BC liquor stores.

And we can’t forget the Alberta Premium 25 year old, one of the all-time Canadian whiskies. It was outside of this decade by a few years, but we can’t forget it.

As much as Canadian whisky continues to struggle with its identity and approach, based on all these whiskies, there is LOTS of good stuff to come.

Site Closing Down - March 2023 by Jason Hambrey

I started this site in 2016, hoping to create a platform to share information and reviews on Canadian whisky. It has since bloomed into a site full of information and reviews on spirits in general, though primarily Canadian whisky and spirits. 2022 was the biggest year for the site despite my inactivity in general: over a quarter million unique viewers and many more views than that. It was quite something to eclipse a million views a few years back.

I’ve decided to let the site go, mainly due to time constraints (family+job). I’ll still be active on connosr (https://www.connosr.com) , by email (contact on this webpage), and I’ll likely continue to pop up on publications like Whisky Magazine.

The site will shut down at the beginning of March. I’ll be posting a few reflections over the coming weeks.

In an effort to try to distill a lot of my reflections based on what I’ve learned about Canadian whisky over the past decade, I put up a YouTube series. It goes into tasting, history, distilleries, and how to explore Canadian whisky for oneself and keep it in context. It’s very low production value, but the information is good. If you haven’t seen it, take a look.

Review: Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
47%
Aging
>4 yrs
Recipe
51% rye, 35% Corn, 14% Malted Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

This was released a few years ago from Heaven Hill - who already produce the well-known rittenhouse and pikesville ryes. It is a corn-heavy rye mashbill, with only 51% rye - but this has come to the market with much acclaim and represents another high-quality, reasonably priced rye.


Review (2022)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2022

The “first to char oak” on the label gave me a good eye-roll before I jumped in to this.

The nose is rich, and full of oak and the waxy, vanilla, and light coconut aroma that you get with new American oak. There is a very appealing light dusty character, spice, and dried fruit character with a rich, fatty, corn character still in the mix. Some nice candied fruit notes too. The palate is spicy, oaky, and with a light touch of corn husk and the fullness of fatty corn too. The finish is lightly fruity – dried fruit on the dried berry character – as well as having a spicy, herbal character of rye. It still has an interesting nutty note, too.

How does this compare to Rittenhouse? It is richer, with more oak and a bit more focused, frankly, on the corn characteristics with a heavy rye accent rather than the rye characteristics with a heavy corn accent. Overall, a nice aged, corn-heavy rye whisky. I like it more as a sipper than Rittenhouse, but less as a mixer (and, notably, less of a sipper than Elijah Craig bourbon).

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

Value: Average at $80.


Review: Willet Family Estate Small Batch Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
54%
Aging
~4 years; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Willett (Bardstown, Kentucky)

Willett is making their own rye whiskey now, after a very successful run with purchasing some very nice rye and bourbon barrels which were previously bottled under their “family estate” brand.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N.A, 54%

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling date: N/A

The nose is woody – vanilla, beeswax, coconut, and with youthful rye tones that are slightly herbal and quite earthy. The earthy character is quite remarkable – it reminds me of fields of grain in the fall, dried up and a bit dusty. There is some light dried fruit character, too – on the lighter side towards peaches rather than richer apricot. The palate has a bit more of a spicy intensity but it is tempered significantly by a wave of sweet, American oak full of vanilla and coconut. The waxiness persists. The finish is slightly raw, with grain, lots more earth, and baking spice. Slightly tannic, but not too much.

A bit disappointing, to be honest, after the incredible quality of their other family estate ryes from single barrels (at least the MGP versions I’ve tried).

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

Value: Low (based on $110)