Review: Great Plains 18 Year Old Jerez Brandy Finish / by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Great Plains Craft Spirits.

Image courtesy of Great Plains Craft Spirits.

19 Years
91.5% Corn, 8.5% Rye
Distiller Highwood (High River, Alberta)

I am quite fond of old Canadian corn whisky. However, at times, despite the complexity, it can fall into a somewhat narrow style. A few years ago, I gave some feedback to a brand that they might want to consider finishing the whisky, just to touch up the flavor a bit - but not take it over. Well, Great Plains is starting to do that! The corn whisky here was distilled in 2000, and, despite the 18 year old age statement, was over 19 years of age when put into the bottle since its finishing time stretched from 12 to 15 between the time that the labels were made and the whisky was actually bottled.

Great Plains started with the idea of putting forward something that (almost all) the big producers weren’t doing, namely, taking old Canadian whisky, adding a bit of “snap” with some younger rye whisky, and then finishing it effectively. The finishing casks selected were inspired by a trip through Europe, where tasty eau de vies and brandies are produced in just about every neck of the woods. The other important step for Great Plains was getting past the nearly-ubiquitous 40% ABV of Canadian whisky by amping up the flavor with an appropriate bottling strength. For this release, they narrowed in on 54.5%. Mike Gordon, who oversees production, finds that these whiskies are sensitive “even to half a percent”. My experience concurs, especially for the old corn whisky out of Alberta which sometimes exits the barrel above 85%.

Great Plains has imported a few brandy casks - Jerez Brandy casks, Cognac Casks, and an Armagnac Cask. They were all imported whole. The brandy casks used for this product came from Bodegas Osborne in Jerez, Spain, where they held brandy for somewhere between 15 and 20 years. The cognac casks, were about 25 years old and were filled with the same 17 year old base as this product. The finishing process is still underway as the cognac notes are taking more time to gain appropriate weight and balance And, there is an Armagnac finish lined up, which started with a 32 year old base whisky and may be released at 35 years.

Exciting stuff!! The whisky, notably, won a gold model at the Canadian whisky awards - an accolade that I find is generally synonymous with the best products available in Canadian whisky, as well as the “Best New Whisky” at this year’s awards which included well over 100 Canadian whiskies.

Review (2020)

  • Batch: Bond date – 09 01 2000

    Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose and palate have burnt match, old whisky notes, light oak, and a great ethereal quality. I always like this style, there is so much here – deep oak, dried fruit, parmesan, raisin, grape soda, vanilla, stewed prunes, a touch of rancio and some mixed fruit preserves – marmelade, blackberry, and red currant – with a good dose of tannin. A really nice balance of fruit here – the rancio and dark fruit builds the more you have of this (that is, there is a difference between a full dram and half a dram here). The finish, particularly, has a decent dose of tannins -drying, with dried fruits slowly unfolding and held together by somewhat sticky vanilla. At the end, it’s almost more of a light brandy finish than a whisky one.

Nice, old Canadian whisky. Even with the rye, and the brandy finish, the old corn isn’t lost. Well done, especially for a first release. It opens well with water, and I find I generally prefer these light old Canadians watered down a bit - but not this one. Interestingly, I find the brandy notes shine at the bottle strength and the whisky notes at lower ABV. So, I suppose Mike was right in saying that there is an appropriate ABV down to the "half percent"!

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).
Average, from a pure taste perspective against the market – this is what I hope to find if I spend $120.But, when we look at this age and cask provenance - great value.