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

18 Years in refill casks (that have been used at least three times)
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

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

Review (2012)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2012

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

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

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

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

Value: Average, for $70.

Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L140062204B

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

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

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

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

Score: 85/100

Value: 65/100 (based on $70)

Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

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

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

Value: Average.

Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L16287 EW16:06

  • Bottling Date: 2016

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

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

Value: Average, for $70.

Review (2017)

Batch: N/A

Bottling Code: N/A

Bottling Date: 2017

I have to keep trying these year after year…

Fall marshes, mixed baking spice, cedar, oak, coconut, beeswax, and sharp apple combine on a rich, integrated whisky which carefully walks the line between elegance and boldness. Rich – with a character that grows and grows as it sits in the glass.

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

Value: High. This one is just good enough to push it into a higher value category than previous - amazing how slight batch variations can have an impact.