Review: Wendel Clark 100% Rye Canadian Whisky (J.P. Wiser's) by Jason Hambrey

Wendel Clark 2.jpg
ABV
41.6%
Aging
11 Years; Ex-Bourbon and Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
100% Rye (column + pot distilled)
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

An 11 year old combination of column-distilled 100% rye whisky, matured in ex-bourbon casks, and column and then pot distilled 100% rye whisky aged in virgin charred oak casks - sounds like a recipe for success! I particularly like the column distilled rye from Hiram Walker, so I’m always eager to see more of it. Bottled at 41.6% to honour the telephone code of 416, one of the two phone area codes for Toronto, where Wendel Clark comes from. A 100% rye whisky was chosen for this bottle to honour Clark’s intense playing style.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Alumni Series

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

A gorgeous nose, full of rich and deep rye notes. The ex-bourbon characteristic comes through on the nose, with apple seeds and a rich, corn-filled oakiness. Lilac, sunflower seeds, dried apricot, chocolate oranges, a light earthy molasses, banana, and sharp sweet oak all blend together brilliantly. The palate brings in rich dried fruit, spicy rye, more intense floral notes, and a rich grain character.

The lot no. 40 in comparison is oakier, more intense, and also a bit oiler/sour from its youth (in contrast, this wouldn’t be true of the cask strength lot no. 40). The differences are perhaps most notable on the finish, where an intense burst of flavour unfolds from the Lot no. 40 while the Wendell Clark is more measured. However, the biggest difference is the column still rye -  it brings in a broad grainy characteristic to the whisky which Lot no. 40 doesn’t have, while retaining all the intense rye notes – albeit in lesser quantity.

Terrific whisky for $45.

Score: 90/100

Value: 93/100 (based on $45)


J.P. Wiser's Alumni Series by Jason Hambrey

Alumni Series.jpg

It blows my mind (and delights my heart) the number of special releases that J.P. Wiser’s is releasing. They are all fantastic, and have perhaps done the best of any brand showcasing the diversity of flavour which comes from Canadian whisky production with the diverse mix of grains, stills, and aging techniques. Most big Canadian distilleries make a number of very different whiskies, from different grains and distilled and aged differently to create vastly different flavour profiles. But, we rarely get to see them. J.P. Wiser’s, however, has opened the floodgates! The brand has been very busy:

  • 2016: Lots of releases: J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels; J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye; Pike Creek Rum Finish released to replace the Port Finish (a good move).

  • 2017: Even more releases: J.P. Wiser’s 15 YO; J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation; J.P. Wiser’s Union 52; J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels; J.P. Wiser’s Canada 150; J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye re-branded as Triple Barrel; (sadly, we also lost J.P. Wiser’s Small Batch and the amazing Wiser’s Legacy…); Gooderham & Worts Little Trinity 17 YO; Pike Creek 21 YO Speyside finish; Lot no. 40 Cask Strength 12 YO; and J.P. Wiser’s 35 YO. (That’s a busy year!!)

  • 2018: More special releases: the Alumni series (3 whiskies); J.P. Wiser’s 2018 Commemorative Bottling; Wiser’s Seasoned Oak (awesome); Pike Creek 21 YO Three Oak; Gooderham & Worts Eleven Souls; Lot no. 40 Cask Strength 11 YO; and J.P. Wiser’s 35 YO again. They also released J.P. Wiser’s old fashioned, which is an easy route to a decent old fashioned.

That’s a busy few years - what other major whisky brand is doing anything like it?! Unquestionably, J.P. Wiser’s has jumped to the forefront of the connoisseur market for Canadian whisky. While other major brands are releasing 1-2 special bottlings a year, Wiser’s is flooding the market with multiple special releases, and - what is more - they are all selling out.

Now to the alumni series. This is something different for them: it is a partnership with the NHL almumni association (NHLAA) with some of the profits directed towards the NHLAA. All the whiskies have been selected to reflect a certain player style - J.P. Wiser’s has chosen to tell a story with a unique take on their whiskies, rather than just recycle their current brands. The first set of releases - bottles honouring Wendel Clark, Guy Lafleur, and Lanny McDonald - were based on the playing styles of each player. Wendel Clark’s whisky was chosen to be a big, 100% rye whisky to reflect the intensity of Clark’s playing style. Lafleur’s whisky is an easy corn whisky, finished in three casks, to reflect his smooth style. And Lanny McDonald’s whisky is centred around wheat whisky, reminiscent of the grain-growing-prairies where McDonald grew up.

On another note, whisky brands partnering with other companies or charities hoping to do good is worth championing. We’ve seen it before with Parker’s Heritage collection and even the Town Collection from Collingwood last year. It’s great to see J.P. Wiser’s doing the same.

I love the diversity Canadian whisky brings, and from a personal perspective, I’ll buy as many Wiser special releases as we get. Again, to my palate’s delight, the alumni series isn’t over - with more Wiser’s special releases coming in 2019.

Reviews are coming, of the first wave, in the upcoming days.

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

ABV
40%
Aging
18 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Valleyfield (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec)

Gibson’s 18 Year Old is a reliable and elegant Canadian whisky which originated in Pennsylvania in 1856. Eventually, it was sold to Schenley and produced at the Valleyfield distillery in Quebec, and in 2009 the brand has shifted to William Grant & Sons (who also own Glenfiddich and Balvenie Single Malts, among others) and is produced out of the Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario. Thus, eventually versions of Gibson's 12 Year Old and this 18 Year Old will be made from Hiram Walker liquid, but not for a few more years yet.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: No. A 19463

  • Bottling Year: ~2013

Nose: Vanilla, honey, oak, caramel, creme brulee – it certainly develops as it sits.You can sense the sweetness of the whisky in the nose, and the oak combines with this to make me think of maple. There are some beautiful cedar notes, and intriguing notes of pickle. The nose has a slight floral element to it as well reminding me of the blossoming of a tree we had in our house growing up which grew big balls of white flowers. Most excellent!

Taste: Thick, slightly sweet, and creamy…lots of bourbon-like influence. There’s a good bit of oak and spice kicks in with some nice sweetness at the end along with some wheat-like graininess. There’s also a touch of cedar in the mix as well which pokes its head up here and there. The rye seems to be dusty, and the mouth dries out a bit as with other whiskies in the Gibson’s line. The cereals also come out for me in a way that reminds me of stale bread – which is not a bad quality. There are some fruit elements like grape juice. There’s a touch of acidity which seems to lift the whole experience up a bit and keep everything in check. Brilliant. Good mouthfeel to it as well.

Finish: Lots happens on the finish! There’s some nice honey, alongside some oak and tannin. It’s still wonderfully light even after all those years in oak. there are some really nice oaky and corn notes, similar to the smell of angel’s share if you ever have a chance to visit a distillery.

This is a fabulous offering by Gibson’s and this whisky is one that demands your attention – it is excellent. The wonderful honey, caramel and light fruitiness is balanced against the oak and cedar, and lifted up by just a touch of acidity.

Score: 92/100

Value: 93/100 (based on $75)


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: No. A 38116; L14179IW 54SL24

  • Bottling Year: ~2015

Nose: This whisky demonstrates the style of much Canadian whisky (even though it didn’t originate in Canada) that is typically mixed into cocktails – but this is refined, complex, and creamy – a clear class above most of those. There is fruit – dried and dark, yet still holding some lighter elements like white grape, some nuttiness, vanilla, some grassy freshness…some oaky earthiness too. Rich, in a way similar to sherried whiskies though this doesn’t smell particularly sherried – but has some of the rich nuttiness and dried fruit. Here, the earthy woody notes seem emphasized over the vanilla and coconut of the review above, and it’s not quite as sweet on the nose. A bit darker and not quite as stunning as my sample from 2013, but nonetheless brilliant.

Taste: Rich, with a mix of fruitiness and nuttiness – and a decent bit of rye amidst it all. A touch bitter on the end – but it doesn’t detract. The richness of the grain meets the richness of the fruit and the oak quite well. Sweetness is nicely balanced.

Finish: Nutty, oaky. Dries out as well – it still tastes so rich. Praline, a bit mossy oak, and a bit of a spicy edge too – more on the side of nutmeg than other things, I think.

Very nice, rich…certainly aged well with a very nice profile. This bottling is still very nice, but it’s a tad below the last one in terms of some subtle complexity – but it still is very nice. The rich, complex, and creamy nature of this gives Forty Creek Confederation Oak a sparring partner in terms of rich complexity and subtlety.

Score: 90/100

Value: 84/100 (based on $75)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Playful– smoky wood, with some nice minerality and milk chocolate alongside green pear, clove, porridge, anise and a touch of banana. Great dried fruit, integrated with the vanilla. The milk chocolate is fascinating – and I don’t recall seeing it before in the Gibson’s 18. Nice drying tannins and spice on the finish. Grains tend to come out more as it sits. There is an old corn whisky aged note to it – and some remarkable light fruit, too. The finish is quite wonderful – lightly fruity and drying with everything from candied to herbal notes. Still, too candied for my taste here, relatively.

Score: 89/100

Value: 73/100 (based on $90)


Review: Gibson's 12 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Gibson's 12.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
12 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Valleyfield (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec)

Gibson’s whiskies used to be produced in Pennsylvania starting from 1938 until prohibition, and then in 1972 Schenley purchased the brand and moved production to Valleyfield, Quebec. After some more ownership switches the brand was bought by William Grant & Sons who have moved production to the Hiram Walker plant in 2009 (for more look at Davin’s post here) – so eventually we will start to see Hiram Walker distillate rather than Valleyfield distillate going into the blend (in this case, about 2021 for the twelve year old). However, the whisky is now blended and bottled at Hiram Walker – and this is evidenced through the changed bottles, now with a cap which is more square. The whisky has also been re-labeled “rare”, like the old 18 year old used to be, and the new 18 year old has been relabeled "venerable”.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2012

This bottling was blended and botted at Valleyfield.

Nose: I get some caramel, vanilla, bourbon, and I pick up a fair bit of corn and some plum. There’s a light touch of bitterness and sourness detracting from the nose, but they are quite light – however upon multiple tastings I found that it dominated too much. Like the other Gibson whiskies, there’s lots of creaminess to this nose. Amidst all else going on I nearly missed the rye which is sitting obviously in the middle of it all lightly directing the show. I find the nose doesn’t improve with time but grows a bit stale and bitter, which is too bad.

Taste: Thick, creamy and slightly sour with a citrus backdrop and a good kick of oaky vanilla and a touch of maple-like woodiness. At the end some dusty rye and spices kick in – clove and even a bit of allspice. The sourness/acidity is intriguing as it is a bit different and doesn’t go too far in one direction. There is a bit of bitterness right on the end – it isn’t horrible and I can’t decide whether I like it or don’t.

Finish: At first the spices take hold for a reasonable length before there’s some light dryness and oakiness remaining in the mouth, along with a touch of rye. The length and weight of the finish is decent, but the flavour could be improved.

This is smooth, thick, and easy drinking other than the touch of bitterness here and there. However, the whisky is a bit of an enigma to me – the first tasting was very impressive (probably would have come out in the low eighties), but the second and third time there was a lot of bitterness , staleness and it was way out of balance – and even tasting beside Gibson’s Sterling I found this to be inferior upon two tastings. I’ve never had such a different tasting experience two days in a row, even after conditioning my palate the same way each time. However, I’m standing with the scores from my two later reviews.

Score: 75/100

Value: 69/100 (based on $30)


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

This is bottling was blended and bottled at Hiram Walker.

Nose: Apple seeds and slightly dry, spicy, bitter grain – there is a richness to it as well. Dried ginger and oak comes out more as it sits. There is a thread of bitterness that detracts from the nose, especially as it is overall quite light with a bit of spicy sharpness. It is decent, but it’s really not fabulous – I find I tend to skip the nose for the palate here.

Taste: Maple – the wood comes in now out of nowhere with sweetness and light tannins – surprisingly rich after the nose, with a bit of a grain comeback to the end of it. There is some fruity richness to it as well which makes me wonder if this uses some refill casks pretty well – but maybe it’s just coming from some rich bourbon casks.

Finish: At first slight spice and tannins, with a sort of green/fresh wood feel and some light cinnamon and clove. A bit of a detrimental saccharin note at the end too, which really doesn’t help.

This is decent – I like this bottling more than the previous one I sampled in 2014 because of some new richness and vibrancy, though the style is a bit flat on the nose and finish and there seems to be less of a bourbon influence. I’m excited to see where this goes when they bottle some of the 18 year old out of Hiram Walker. Amazing to me, though, how much this whisky gains with age – all that’s best about this whisky is just enriched so much further. If they ever bottle any Gibson’s beyond 18 years, I’d bet that’d be good stuff, especially with the oak in quite good control even after 18 years! The dryness in this whisky lends itself very nicely to mixing as well.

Score: 78/100

Value: 70/100 (based on $30)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A dry, broad nose with light fruit, dry orange peel, oak, and a light grainy body with a touch of matchsticks and baking spice. The palate is soft, with drying oak and spice with a splash of citrus. The oak is really nice. Depending on the flight you take this one in, it seems to bring out very different characteristics. Interesting.

Score: 81/100

Value: 72/100 (based on $33)


Review: Gibson's Finest Bold 8 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
8 years
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Valleyfield (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec)

This whisky is a new release of this year, with something you don't often see - a younger whisky coming in with an age statement, rather than just a non-age-statement. It's good to see - always nice to have a better sense of what you are drinking, and I am in high favour of knowing what the youngest part of the whisky is...this was released in 2016 to add to the lineup of Gibson's Sterling, 12 year old, and 18 year old - but it comes in at 46% compared to the other botttlings which are at 40%. Let's see how it does...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L16134HW 20:45

  • Bottling Date: 2016

The nose is dark and rich – molasses, dark and dense rye bread, orange peel, mossy oak, roasted grain, butter – but goes more creamy and buttery as it sits – rich maple butter, coconut cream, hazelnut toffee. Terrific. The palate has a load of rich grain – corn, rye – alongside some peppery spices, stewed pear, plum, orange, and a light coating of oaky vanilla. Seeing this at 46% makes me wish Gibson’s did this with all their whiskies – it is a phenomenal difference in amping up flavour, spice, and finish – diluted with water this whisky becomes much more ordinary (though still full of flavour). The finish has lots of buttery grain, cinnamon, and clove. Slightly tangy- and very nicely dry. Very full. Too bad, though, that it looks like someone dropped some ink into the bottle (well…) – I think even someone really new to whisky won’t even think that is natural colour…

Score: 84/100

Value: 81/100 (based on $30)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Green grape, coconut, celery, pear, clove. A really interesting floral thread is present, integrated with candied fruit, grape juice, prunes, and butterscotch. Yet, the grain characteristic throughout the whisky is brilliant. It really does work nicely at the bit higher proof.

Score: 83/100

Value: 78/100 (based on $32)


Review: Gibson's Sterling Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Valleyfield (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec)

Gibson’s Sterling was first crafted at a time when Gibson’s whiskies were in high demand – the 12 year old version had much more demand than supply, so Gibson’s wanted to produce something to provide customers with the product they desired without having to wait a full 12 years for new whisky to be produced. Gibson’s sterling was the result, blended from some younger whiskies than in the 12 year old versions (and some considerably older ones too) and its popularity resulted in the continuing production of this whisky.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Nose: fruity rye! I always get a breeze of white/green gooseberries as I pour this one. The nose comes off a bit buttery and creamy with some dry rye bitterness as well which doesn’t do it any favours. There is some light vanilla in the background, along with some light oakiness, maple, and light brown sugar. There’s also a fair bit of graininess to it – there are smells reminiscent of some of the grainy vodkas. As I spend some more time with the nose the bitterness fades slightly and is replaced by a bit of sweetness and molasses. Not a great one, but ok – the bitterness is a bit too much and is out of place.

Taste: It’s light and reasonably sweet with some rye, maple, and clove amid a lemon-like citrusy backdrop along with some very gentle oak. The mouthfeel is quite nice on this one and it feels juicy with the citrus and berry notes. There is a touch of bitterness in line with the nose but it isn’t as bad on the palate as the nose. Some spices come out on the end – clove and cinnamon – but the cinnamon doesn’t quite carry the spiciness of fresh cinnamon but has more the influence of cinnamon in pumpkin bread or the like. I get a lot of rum notes and am reminded a lot of Bacardi 8 year old as I sip this one. However, it is fairly easy-going and lacks complexity. It’s also reasonably dry, which doesn’t surprise me after the nose.

Finish: The spices start off the finish before some molasses and woodiness, which is slightly sweet and is pleasant. There’s some fruity rye which carries on for a decent bit afterward. It has medium length, but I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Conclusion: Reasonably pleasant, although the bitterness and nose could be improved and the taste is a little too laid-back. A decent value whisky, and, apart from a few off-key bits, it is quite pleasant.

Score: 78/100

Value: 72/100 (based on $28)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Coconut, maple, baking spices, black tea, jasmine, juniper, green wood and light vanilla sweetness come through on a light, easy, whisky with a thread of spice. Quite tropical. An easy sipper - it’s light, easy and structured, with enough mouthfeel, spice, and tannins to make you continue to want more.

Score: 80/100

Value: 73/100 (based on $29)


Review: Canadian Club Small Batch Classic Aged 12 Years Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
12 Years
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

I wonder how "small" these batches are...I apologize for the blurry image but I figure it's still better than nothing...

This whisky is aged 12 years, and was recently rebranded (I think 2013) to”small batch” with a new bottle (remind anyone of Knob Creek?) and description (in quite small lettering). It is barrel blended, that is, unaged spirit from different batches and perhaps recipes are blended together before being put in a barrel – in line with other Canadian Club whiskies. It is distilled in a pot still, at Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: C12-054

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: Quite a compact, almost dark aroma. Maple, some cedar, slightly creamy, and even touches of light smoke, cola, some oaky earthiness characteristic of Canadian Club which I just love, a bit of light, fresh banana which, in combination with the creaminess, is a bit like a banana split. Dark rye bread, light orange, and some light toffee are also present and vanilla grows in weight as the whisky sits.

Taste: Fairly sweet, with honey, maple, caramel, oak, rye bread, brown sugar, marmelade, malt and some spices on the finish. The palate is very enjoyable, and is a bit creamy and thick. The sweetness slowly builds until there is a lovely vanilla flourish at the end of the palate which leads into the finish very nicely.

Finish: Slightly drying with some touches of dark rye bread, vanilla, a bit of oak, a touch of nutmeg and very light clove, and some light oaky earthiness (like you might expect from mossy and moist oak), with, unfortunately, a touch of slightly nagging bitterness.

Score: 84/100

Value: 83/100 (based on $28)


Review (2015; Blind)*

  • Batch: C12-014

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Spices come through - nutmeg, clove, ginger, brown sugar, with threads of richness throughout. On the palate, it is somewhat sweet, though over-oaked and consequently tannic and bitter. Notable cinnamon on the finish.

Score: 67/100*

Value: 66/100 (based on $28)*

*I should note here that this whisky went on to win a silver medal at the Canadian Whisky Awards for this same batch, so, either my palate strongly disagreed with this one in a unique manner or this sample tasted was tainted, which is my suspicion. As such, I trust my previous review from 2014 more than this one.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

I’m posting this review because this whisky is generally pretty good and I think either I had a reuined sample or I botched the blind tasting above.

Dried blueberries, maple, cinnamon, old oak, new oak, vanilla, green, wet fresh and rich wood, and some very appealing spiciness. This is very familiar. The palate is fairly straightforward with some molasses, light pine, and bean sprouts and caramel. Slightly bitter on the finish, but decent.

Score: 84/100

Value: 82/100 (based on $28)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A nose dotted with transcendant rye and rich grain, easing into a palate dotted with orange peel, cream of wheat, caramel, cedar, gooseberry, white grape, vanilla, and then a creamy and spicy finish. Really nice rye and the integration is awesome. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a CC12 that’s been so good. The corn essence and dried fruit in the whisky is also quite rich, a nice touch.

Score: 87/100

Value: 89/100 (based on $30)


Review: Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

This whisky, it seems, took most people by surprise. I don’t usually get surprised by a new whisky release, but this one I didn’t see until it just about hit the shelves. Though it is Canadian Club, it is not actually distilled at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor (like the rest of the Canadian Club line) – it is actually distilled and bottled in Alberta, from Alberta Distillers. However, they’re both owned by Beam-Suntory so some stock-swapping isn’t as difficult as it otherwise might be, and it makes sense to sell Alberta rye from a marketing perspective because Canadian Club has a much bigger brand name.

Read More

Review: Canadian Club Premium Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

One of the best selling Canadian Whiskies, Canadian Club is full also of history (and myth). It is sold in more than 150 countries, and is produced out of the Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor, Ontario and originally crafted under Hiram Walker himself. In the 19th century, this whisky was very popular in gentlemen’s clubs, and it hence received the name “Club Whisky”. Eventually, “Canadian” was added to the label, due to pressure from the States in order to tarnish their competition (this part of the story, I believe, may be more legend than truth). Regardless, as it was known for quality, the “Canadian” helped the whisky’s success, resulting in other non-Canadian brandsfalsely putting “Canadian” on their labels. One big reason for the relative quality of Canadian whisky at the time was the institution of aging requirements before they were instituted in any other country (1 year in 1887, 2 years in 1890, and then 3 years in 1974; source: Canadian Whisky, Davin De Kergommeax).

The whisky is “blended at birth”, meaning that different batches of unaged spirit (presumably of different recipes) are blended together to fit a specific flavour profile before being put in a barrel. It is then aged about 6 years in white oak barrels. The Canadian Club whisky is different, I believe, in the States and in Canada. Though I haven’t yet tasted the Canadian Club sold in the States, most opinions seem to favor the Canadian bottling over the American.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: There’s an interesting floral note that jumps out to me initially, like rose water, alongside some cola notes. Fruity rye is definitely present, and, equally as present as the corn alongside it - there is a bit of graininess reminiscent of the alcohol-forward smells of vodkas. I find the corn a little reminiscent of unflavoured corn chips. There’s vanilla and a bit of caramel also in the background….and the nose opens up as the glass sits revealing more vanilla and maple, and, at times, candied orange peel. It’s subtle, but it keeps me interested. There’s almost a bit of sour, almost meaty aroma that comes out in the nose (not that appealing...). I get quite an interesting mix of vegetal notes – such as celery and green bell pepper. The nose, I find, is a bit errant and not particularly well constructed together.

Taste: A bit sweet. The rye comes in and carries much of the flavour, although the corn is also still quite present. There’s a particular earthiness to this whisky as it heats up the mouth at the end of the taste that I really like. I also find just on the exit there’s a faint bit of that floral character that I picked up in the nose. It’s interestingly raw at points, and reminds me of the volatility of some rye new makes– however, I don’t mind the flavour. There is some unbalanced bitterness at times, unfortunately, which detracts from the taste.

Finish: The tannins do a bit of work on the finish, which has a nice touch of acidity and prickly spice and cacao powder. The finish has a touch too much of bitterness which I don’t like, however, I find it interesting juxtaposed with the sweetness. As the finish fades, it becomes more enjoyable after a bit of time as the finish seems to lighten up and “cleanse” itself.

This isn’t a whisky I would choose to take an hour with, but part of me quite enjoys the raw earthiness and spice of this.

Overall: 78/100

Value: 69/100 (based on $26)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Loads of pine – pine needles, balsam fir, cedar, pink peppercorn – remarkable. Mandarins, lemon, light spices, and lightly roasted almonds play the supporting cast. Slight creaminess brings things together nicely. Light oils, and nice spices on the finish.

Score: 80/100

Value: 73/100 (based on $28)


Review: Ninety 20 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
20 yrs
Recipe
100% Corn
Producer Highwood (High River, Alberta)

This is a product of Highwood Distillery, in High River Alberta, and is another in their line of fabulous 100% corn whiskies (joining Century Reserve Lot 15/25 and Century Reserve 21 Year Old). It is called a “rye” whisky in that “rye” also is the name for Canadian whisky because of its extensive use of rye to craft the flavour profiles of its whisky. The name, “Ninety” is due to the fact that this whisky comes in at 45%, or 90 proof – higher than the nearly ubiquitous 40% for Canadian whisky. Higher alcohol level means less water dilution from the cask (which is about 75% at Highwood), and thus, theoretically, more flavour.

Highwood isn’t built to distill their own corn whisky – it is sourced from elsewhere, but brought to Highwood for ageing. Bourbon barrels from either Jack Daniel’s or Jim Beam are used to mature their products. Though this whisky was released over a year ago, it has only just available in Ontario as a lot of distribution and production was put on hold due to some serious flooding, and the distillery has recovered well and has been back in full swing – and we are all grateful. I’ve been waiting for this to drift to the Ontario market ever since I heard about it…also, it’s another 20 year old Canadian whisky under $50 here – not something you will readily find in other markets.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Nose: Vanilla, maple, and creamy nuttiness with an elegant feel. I am not quite sure how to describe the “elegant” feel to it – but I find that it almost “feels” rich and buttery as I smell. There are notes of bourbon, but it obviously doesn’t smell like a bourbon because it is not aged in new wood (though there will be small bits of bourbon directly in the whisky from the bourbon casks). There’s a bit of light dried fruit – like prunes, but the nose isn’t sour. A bit of darker elements of earthy woodiness and molasses lurk under the surface too. And, there’s toffee too. The range isn’t huge – but it’s very well done. And, for a 20 year old whisky, there is surprisingly little oak, even with a cask that’s been used once before.

Taste: A bit sweet to start, with a rich vanilla and maple undertow and fading to some drying spices (white pepper and some of the sharpness of clove) before being washed again with some creamy caramel. The palate lingers very well and the whisky flavour seems to keep developing uninterrupted once you’ve swallowed – which is very nice. The mouthfeel of the whisky is extremely nice – buttery and a bit viscous (though not too thick that it doesn’t slide down easily) – it slides down well, and I think the creamy notes on the palate also help the brain to perceive that it slips down even better. There’s a bit of an oaky rumminess and earthiness too, in the background – it’s quite nice, and enough for you to notice it, but not too much that it dominates over the softer and creamier primary flavours. There is also a light “rancio” note, like the oxidized nature of sherry or marsala – but this is light, and though I don’t like sherry or marsala much – it fits in very well here.

Finish: At first the corn (in the dimensions of corn on the cob and cornmeal) seems to come out with vanilla before oak slowly starts to take the reins with a bit of cinnamon, dried ginger, and orange peel. Also, interestingly enough, it’s a bit sour on the finish in a way it wasn’t at any other point in the whisky. It’s also a fitting whisky for fall, with notes similar to the reeds in marshes as they die and start to decompose in the fall.

A fitting fall whisky with the light earthiness and oakiness – yet it’s very elegant, easy to drink, and bright. The silkiness, richness, balance, and depth is wonderful. A pleasure, for sure. The first thing I thought with this whisky is how it compares to Century Reserve 21 Year Old, another 100% corn whisky coming out of Highwood which is a bit older but similar in terms of age. The profiles are similar, but Century Reserve 21 Year Old is a bit lighter and more floral while this one is a bit fruitier, and a bit more packed with flavour (particularly in the toffee department) and fruit, and the sherry-like note I mentioned earlier. Comparing it to Century Reserve Lot 15/25 (also with old stocks, and 100% corn) – there’s less vanilla, sweetness, and spice. But, they’re all very good – and particularly this one.

Score: 90/100

Value: 91/100 (based on $50)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

  • Bottling Code: 6118

This past year Highwood added new white labels to replace the old label (shown above), so that the product would stand out better on the shelves. I'd heard some good things about the recent batches of this, so I had to give this one another go:

Rich oak, coconut, vanilla, strawberry jam, campino candies, dulce de leche, clove –creamy and elegant. It opens up brilliantly as it sits in the glass. There are some really interesting fruit notes that I am having trouble defining – tropical, creamy fruits. The palate is full, lightly sweet, and creamy, with leather, stale clove and cinnamon, dried corn, and dried apple – finishing with oak and a bit more old leather. The old notes are very intriguing – I love them, and my appreciation for them has continued to grow as I’ve continued to taste more whisky. This batch is a bit brighter, and slightly less nutty and earthy, than the reviewed batch above – I can’t say I like it more, but I certainly don’t like it less. Terrific stuff. They’re both brilliant. All you connoisseurs of Scotch Grain Whisky need to get a bit of this.

It’s one of those whiskies to spend time with – drinking this one quickly, as with many old whiskies – you will miss much.

Score: 90/100

Value: 91/100 (based on $50)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Oily and oaky, with beeswax, almond, coconut, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, maple, hazlenuts, loads of subtle notes, and light oaky bitterness. The palate combines both all the subtle, soft notes of the nose with interesting grape notes, raisins, and port (I’m picking up notes of port-like fruit and rancio – interesting!). Soft, developing, and complex.

Score: 90/100

Value: 91/100 (based on $50)