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

Gibson's 12.jpg
12 yrs
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)