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

100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

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.

This whisky is about 7 years old, and is, apparently, targeted to the young crowd to get them interested in high quality whisky. Of course, it is also targeted to be a good mixer and comes with cocktail suggestions as well. Alberta Distillers, it seems, is an ever-ending source of new rye whisky brands when the rest of the world has no rye left to offer. For more on this whisky, check out this excellent article over at whisky advocate. Additionally, this is described as the “Chairman’s Select”, which (perhaps) begs the question – who is the chairman? Check out these clips:

Marketing gimmicks, perhaps, but I find it entertaining.

Many love this whisky, as evidenced, perhaps by some of the awards it has received including placing at the Canadian Whisky Awards - a gold in an impressive lineup in 2015, as well as in 2014. I was on the judging panel in 2015 and certainly didn't give it a gold-level rating in my blind taste, in fact, my rating went down from previous tastings quite significantly (which hasn't generally happened in my blind tastings of Canadian whisky). All this to say, you might like this more than I do if you try it, like the other 9 judges did. Also, this is very affordable whisky.

Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

  • Bottling Code: L14251 AW1207

Nose: If you’re familiar with the Canadian Club brand, you’ll know that this doesn’t quite follow suit. Lots of fruit – orange and guava – amidst a rich and slightly sour background of dusty rye and spices. Of all the Alberta rye I’ve had, this seems to have the brightest fruit character. There is a light oak tannin (I say tannin because it gives me the impression/feeling of a very dry characteristic) note as well in the background. At times the fruitiness is a bit too medicinal for my liking – and the orange shifts from a nice candied citrus peel to cough syrup. Interesting, though, in the context of Alberta rye where I often find a very slight medicinal edge – much like you find sometimes with the peaty Islay Scotches. But, in the case of Alberta rye, I have always found it to be more on the spirity medicinal side like turpentine. This time, however, it’s more in the cough-syrup mold. The oak, and in fact the rye, along with vanilla and a slight buttery-ness emerge a bit more as the whisky sits. Also, I find the fruit keeps growing too, such that I can’t really understand how it can get any bigger in magnitude. While, on one hand, this is nice, I find the sweet candied fruit and the dry and spicy rye and oak compete for the spotlight in a matter that is a bit discordant. Nonetheless, a big, complex nose – and very interesting.

Taste: The fruit leads on the palate as well, bringing in some woody notes with a surprising amount of sweetness before the oak and tannins take over, drying the feel slightly before some spices (clove and cinnamon) and, surprisingly, a bit of maltiness remain. It is quite rich – fruity, woody (sometimes with a bit of earthiness integrated), and a bit spicy (in “feel” as well as “flavour”, though more on the flavour side). Additionally, the vanilla is so well integrated into this one I almost missed it! It isn’t so much it’s own flavour but very much part of the background mix. I very much like this one. The oak is nicely judged on this one – it is close to being too bitter – but it is just right so that it has a great edge of tannic oak.

Finish: Orange, light oak, a few sour prunes, a touch of mint, cinnamon, almond and some very light arugula (which I often find in 100% ryes) from time to time. The fruitiness finally dies, and a good bit of oak and cinnamon remain with some orange notes from time to time. It has a nice effect of growing as you drink more of it. Fairly tannic and dry as well.

Richly woody, with a shocking amount of fruit, and some nice oak and spice to frame the whole thing. I am glad for the release and think it is an excellent addition to the Canadian Club line, and hopefully they can expand it so that more people can have access to it. I am glad that the palate and the finish both balanced the fruitiness, spiciness, and oak unlike on the nose. It is somewhat natural to consider how this one compares to Alberta Premium (AP), both Alberta Distillery 100% Rye, but both very different whiskies – in terms of rye, AP has a dry, rye-flour sort of presentation that is quite grain driven as opposed to the load of fruit in this Canadian Club. In terms of spice, Alberta Premium is more in the mold of a light cayenne spice, whereas Canadian Club is more in a cinnamon and dry ginger mode. In terms of oak, AP has notes of light toasted oak while this Canadian Club has big, caramel-y oak. Beyond that, Alberta Premium is more buttery and toffee driven while Canadian Club is big, driven by fruit and oak. In one sense, Alberta Premium is more traditionally Canadian in its presentation of rye and this Canadian Club has a bit more of an American rye style to it (though it’s hard to find a rye anywhere with so much fruit!!).

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

Value: High, at $28.

Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

  • Bottling Code: N/A

A unique set of flavours not often seen in whisky - guava, canteloupe with quite a lot of complexity and including mixed roasted notes and a plethora of candy - Cavendish & Harvey fruit drops (particularly blackberry candies). Orange peel, oak...and lots of candy in excess.

Value: Average, at $28. This one didn’t quite cut it for me like usual.

Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Opens up nicely with time. Bright and fruity, with pear, caramel, crème brulee, candied oranges, cinnamon, maple, and light woody bitterness. Ever so slightly medicinal, yet feels still a bit youthful. The palate has a nice creamy middle with good development to a creamy finish with tangerine, spices, creamy oak, and lemon. Remarkable, as usual, how much fruit is in here. Finishes with brown sugar. Rich, and spicy.

Quite a disparate set of scores on this one - you can tell that I have trouble rating this, in part because I’m not sure how heavily to penalize the components I don’t like in it (the intense fruitiness, sometimes the lack of balance). Few whiskies result in such a wide range of scores on my end. I’m not sure if the whisky itself has changed, or the variation in scores simply reflects my own difficulty in scoring the whisky.

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

Value: High, for $29.