Canadian Whisky

Review: Little Book Blended Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Little+Book+1.jpg
ABV
59.4%
Aging
8-40 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
A blend of straight rye and corn whiskies
Distiller Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky)

This is quite the endeavor - a blend of Kentucky Straight Rye (8 years old) with a Canadian straight rye (13 years old) and a Canadian corn whisky (40 years old). One can assume the Canadian portion came from Alberta, since Beam owns that remarkable distillery - but it may have been sourced elsewhere. Talk about unique.

This review is for the second release, which differed from the first release which was based around a 4 year old straight bourbon, a 6 year old rye, a 13 year old corn whiskey, and a 6 year old 100% malt whiskey..


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Chapter 2: Noe Small Task

  • Bottling Code: 1689597L5 13:53 17199

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Sharp, diverse, and complex nose. Mint, lemon peel, pickled lemons, arugula, oak – loaded with oak, so it’s not very much like a Canadian blended whisky despite the Canadian components. It’s a bit sweet – and it’s quite deep. Sweet tarts, dried chanterelles, truffle oil, toasted macadamias, toasted hazlenuts, mixed sprouts, blueberry, canola oil

Deep, yet quite soft. The palate is full of a mix of all sorts of rye – fruity, spicy, herbal (radishes), and cinnamon. Still, there is a nice corn body to this, and a very nice mix of spicy and rich grain notes. What a nice, complex whisky. There is an incredibly rich nuttiness and herbaceousness present, and the balance is terrific – especially at cask strength. The finish is lightly sweet, with some nice spices in tow. The herbal characteristics are not lost at all, and the rich oakiness remains throughout. This is just about a perfect fall whisky.

It has less colour than most bookers, probably because the Canadian rye was refill casks. It is an entirely different animal than a booker’s which is much more focused on corn and a bit more focused on a big bourbon profile than Little Book, which is very much in its own category – but with deep American rye whiskey nods.

One of my favourite American-produced whiskies to date.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is at the higher end of this category, too.

Value: Average (based on $130).


Review: Hochstadter's Family Reserve 16 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Hochstadter+2.jpg
ABV
61.9%
Aging
16 Years; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky was released at the same time as (my revered) lock, stock, and barrel 16 year old - it is from the same cache of barrels from Alberta Distillers which Cooper Spirits acquired - a cask strength, intense rye whisky. Alberta rye at over 60% - I must try this! It costs a pretty penny, though, sadly.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Now there is a nose! Quite candied, with loads of arugula, some spinach, light medicinal overtones, candied orange, prunes, plums, loads of clove, dried blueberry, dried cherry, dusty asphalt, oak, sundried tomatoes, loads of cedar – it just gets better with time. It reminds me a bit of the heavy caroni rums with some of the spice and medicinal notes. We have some dustiness too!

The palate is very herbal, lightly medicinal, dried spices – very Alberta. It ends in a rich flourish of arugula. Lavender,  throughout – it is quite sweet, with notes of icing sugar – moreso than other Alberta whiskies I’ve tried. This whisky is so huge, and so deep! The finish is oaky, rich, and still very fruity – lots of dried fruit, berry notes, clove, icing sugar, nutmeg, sweet oak, and the slightest bracing of tannin.

It is a very different whisky than Masterson’s, when compared side by side. The masterson’s isn’t as sharp or deep, and has a lot less vibrancy (if you can believe such a thing). Unbelievably, it puts masterson’s to shame – and masterson’s is one of the best Canadian rye whiskies, which rarely gets outdone. That says something.

I still like this a tad less than the Lock, Stock, and Barrel, which I feel isn’t quite as sweet and is a touch more balanced. Compared to the Lock, Stock, and Barrel 18 – this is less oaky, and more muscular, with deeper fruity and spicy notes.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Average. Amazing whisky (some of the best), but 200 USD is a price, for sure!


Review: Canadian Club 41 Year Old Chronicles Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

CC41+1.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
40 Years; Refill American Oak
Recipe
100% Corn
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

The follow up to the remarkable 40-year old bottling of Canadian Club last year, this is a bit different - to the 41 year old corn whisky small amounts of young rye, sherry, and cognac were blended in. To my knowledge, the oldest Canadian whisky ever released to date.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Luscious, mature whisky with all the expected richness: coconut oil, beeswax, honey, oak, and yet – a nice set of spice and dried fruit notes. The palate is aged whisky that is loaded with flavor: berry notes, waxy notes, woody notes, dried fruit notes, and spice notes – it is lightly sweet, with an ethereal aged whisky quality and top notes of blueberry and honey. The nose here is just brilliant, and the spiciness in the middle is just really nice. The finish has a touch of tartness and some dried fruit reminiscent of dark fruit found in red wines.

This is very excellent. However, it falls a bit flat on the palate relative to last year (which was one of my favourite whiskies ever). It’s a bit spicier, and the dried fruit notes are more prominent.

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. My perfect whisky is worth $300, and I haven’t found it yet. A very good whisky, whether $300 is worth spending on a whisky is up to you. I will say, though, that you won’t find any other really good whiskies over 40 years old at this price.


Review: Canadian Club Barley Batch Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
42%
Aging
5-6 Years
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This whisky was released to celebrate Canadian Club’s 160th anniversary in 2018, and it based on a blend of 5 year old standard Canadian Club (as in Canadian Club premium) from Hiram Walker distillery and 6 year old malt whisky from Alberta Distillers (owned by Beam Suntory, who own Canadian Club). It is bottled at a higher ABV, and is a limited edition.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Interesting almost tropical aromas – coconut water, bamboo, green (unripe) mango – but also familiar applesauce, vanilla, and peach. Also, mulberry – very distinct! The palate shows a bit more grain, leading onto a grainy and spicy finish with a hit of vanilla. The spices come through at the end, particularly, to balance everything out especially with a light grainy richness coming through.

This is quite a departure from most Canadian Clubs, other than perhaps the 100% rye – it is extremely fruity, more in the style of the younger, very fruity micro-distilled single malts which are on the market. However, it still has a grain richness to it that is different than a micro-distilled single malt.

If you want to try something different, and aren’t familiar with the vibrant and very fruity young malt whiskies, it’s a good try for uniqueness. If you have, though, I’d skip this one and go to a CC20 for just about 10$ bit more, or a CC12 for less.

Value: Average, at $60.


Review: Two Brewers Innovative Yukon Single Malt by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Two Brewers, photographed by Michal Kostal.

Image courtesy of Two Brewers, photographed by Michal Kostal.

ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Two Brewers (Whitehorse, Yukon)

Two Brewers has an innovative line, alongside their classic, special finishes, and peated lines – in this line of products, they bring their brewing expertise to the table to generate unique expressions through the use of special brewing techniques during fermentation.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Release 5 (Sour Mash Single Malt)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

This batch is the first in the innovative line, and it is brewed using a sour mash – where the spent mash (the remains of a previously fermented mash) is poured back into the fermenters of the next batch to increase the acidity in fermentation – originally done to help the yeast do their job better and sometimes to create sour taste profiles in beer. You see this everywhere with Kentucky bourbon, but rarely with single malts (at least I haven’t heard of any doing this) – so this is indeed unique.

Vibrant fruit, and very reminiscent of the Two Brewers style. Interesting, though, with cinnamon coming in amidst the over-ripe banana, pineapple, guava, orange, and raspberry (yes, this is fruity!). Sweet roasted red pepper, dill, acacia honey, and even a light mineral backbone. The palate is surprisingly malty, but also with some spicy vegetal notes – dill, water cress, and arugula. Creamy porridge, too, with lots of cereal notes – which also I find all over the nose after I’ve taken a sip. Lightly sweet, but nicely balanced. The finish is lightly spicy, oaky, and still carrying sweet fruit notes. Another winner from Yukon!

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Really good whisky, but at $100 it starts to compete against other possibilities in the $100 range.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 08 (Hopped)

  • Bottling Code: L1 50781D 17/11/2017

  • Bottling Date: 2017

I’ve been eager to try this one. It’s from the Yukon distillery, but this time they used hops in their mash and distilled the hopped distiller’s beer. I asked Bob what hops he used, and he said "I think cascade – but it was so long ago that I don’t remember!”. Pretty rare to hear a micro distilery say that!

At first, you get all the broad and rich Two Brewers fruit notes – mango, apple, pear, banana – but this has some unique and lovely notes to it. Pine, cedar, vanilla, baking bread, rich barley, anise, a slight marshmallow character, with more pear and a bourbon-like dried fruit character arising with time. The palate starts sweet, but, as usual, there comes a great Two Brewers roasted grain character alongside a saccharin sweetness. It has a great edge to it, between the sharpness of the grain and the light piney bitterness of the hops. There’s also a bit of szechuan peppercorn, here, too.

The palate comes through with great grain, and on the end there’s a very nice bitter touch from the hops. The finish is quite reminiscent of when you drink beer and whisky together, the hop notes staying in the background but full of the fruity character of the whisky. Lots of rich grain notes, a bit like a rich stout. I like the bitterness and it has a pleasant drying sensation.

In some ways I like it more, but it is not quite as bright as some other releases. The hops work well - it is the best hopped whisky I’ve tasted, and it is unique.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Really good whisky, but at $100 it starts to compete against other possibilities in the $100 range.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Release 11 (Munich Malt)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

This is a Two Brewers, but made with Munich Malt, a malt known for bringing in a rich grain characteristic to beer.

The nose is rich, very much Two Brewers but with a richer and deeper grain characteristic. We have honey, rich mixed grain, light woody spice, and lots of fruit: peaches, plums, and mixed tropical fruits. The grain blossoms on the palate right through to the finish, which is still grainy, lightly sour, and herbal. The tropical fruits remain, and we get a typical hit of arugula in the middle. – but the fruit continues, and we get a nice hit of milk chocolate towards the end. Terrific! The finish is lightly sour, lightly herbal, with oaky vanilla and baking spice with touches of tannin. Quite different than the sharp and piney spiciness in the last innovative release, the hopped single malt. This is really good, the best of their innovative line so far, from a taste perspective.

I just love the stuff Two Brewers is putting out – this is perhaps my favourite of their categories because of the uniqueness each batch brings.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average. Really good whisky, but at $100 it starts to compete against other possibilities in the $100 range.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Release 14 (Roasted Malts)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Dragonfruit, caramel, custard, fresh baking bread – a really nice set of baking spice aromas. Two Brewers really does such a nice job with all their whiskies- the bright fruit so uniquely woven into the rich grain character. The roasted malts here assert their presence more than they did with the munich malt or other releases, and there is a really nice elegance to this whisky especially as it sits out. The palate has roasted grain at the centre, with a very pleasing, almost gritty grain character at the end which is fantastic. Fruit, oak, and dessert notes are present throughout the palate, well balanced and full of intrigue. The finish is grainy, and lightly fruity. Not as much is going on the finish as on the palate, but it’s still very pleasant. The 46% pays off, especially on the finish.

The grain character here is slightly bigger than the other Two Brewers releases, where grain still plays a significant role. Very nice.

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $100. This is about what you should expect from a whisky (or Scotch) which you pay $100, and this is better than most Scotch whiskies that cost $100.


Review: Last Straw Distillery Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image copyright by Last Straw Distillery Corp. Used with Permission.

Image copyright by Last Straw Distillery Corp. Used with Permission.

ABV
43%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak Casks
Recipe
100% Rye
Distiller Last Straw (Vaughan, Ontario)

Last Straw has been waiting the long three years before their first whisky, and we have here the first - a big, 100% rye whisky. I was consulted in the early stages in helping them decide release proof, between 43%, 46%, and cask strength - 61.26%. They bottled at my favourite, 43% - it was good at all but the oak dominated at higher proofs while maturation hadn’t developed a bigger “middle” yet for the higher proofs.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

This is very spicy, and at the outset I know it is shaping up to be a great rye. It has the deep vegetal and spicy characteristics that I love in big rye whisky. The nose has apple, caramel, arugula, baking spice, lilac, brown sugar, and dried fruit – this is very good! The palate carries on from the nose, with a bit more of a bracing oak character. The spice, arugula, and dry spices really come through on the palate and lead through to the finish. It’s balanced with sweet oak and dried fruit. The finish has dried fruit, spice, arugula, caramel, oak, dried chanterelle mushrooms, and fennel.

Highly Recommended (49% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, but encroaching upon high.  I really like the stuff, even for $75.


Review: Niagara Falls Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Niagara Falls Canadian Whisky 1.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
4 years
Recipe
8 grains (see below), brand new American oak
Distiller Niagara Falls Craft Distillers (Niagara Falls, Ontario)

The goals of this whisky are similar to that of Niagara Falls first product, Barreling Annies - but this is markedly different in that it is their own distillate, even if the goals of this whisky are similar to Barreling Annie’s: to be an easy, light and great mixer rather than a connoisseur-style sipper. However, there is quite the mix going in here - 8 grains: Canadian barley, winter wheat, winter rye, toasted rye, flaked rye, and three other internationally-sourced grains.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is pretty light, with dry oak, vanilla, prunes, clove, nutmeg – it has the light, sweet, and slightly spicy characteristic of many classic Canadian whiskies. The oak really is central. The palate has dried fruit, more light oak, vanilla, sugar caramel, maple, prunes, and even some bean sprouts which I find from time to time in some Canadian whiskies. The finish is clean, with light dried fruit and oaky spice. Slight tannins grow on the finish.

This is more in line with the lighter, traditional Canadian whiskies which are consumed readily the world-over: dry, lightly spicy, lightly sweet, fairly light bodied. It isn’t heavy on new oak influence. It may appeal less to those looking for big or more unique flavour characteristics. It is similar in style to Barreling Annie’s.

Value: Average. Not expensive at $33.


Review: Black Velvet Onyx 12 Years Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
12 Years; Ex-bourbon
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Black Velvet (Lethbridge, Alberta)

It’s too bad - we don’t get to see many older whiskies out of the Black Velvet distillery, which produces some nice stuff - the old Danfield’s line, especially the 21 year old, was fantastic. But here is one - 12 years, a step above the 8 year old Black Velvet Reserve, and showcasing a bit more of what Black Velvet can do.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

Balanced, light, broad and integrated. Very nice mix of grain, oak, and loads of spice at the end. Maple cookies! There is more: lots of blueberry, apple, and butterscotch. The palate has a nice richness, spiciness, and dryness to it. A very nice whisky! Well blended and quite enjoyable.

The most interesting part about this whisky is that it reminds me of older vintage Canadian whiskies I’ve had from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It has a distinct funk to it, almost like a mustiness, that is subtle – but present.

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

Value: N/A. I couldn’t figure out what this cost. But it’s worth about $67 in the overall whisky market (heavily influenced by the high prices of Scotch) and in the Canadian whisky market probably $35-40 as Canadian whisky (and American whisky) typically offers a better palate experience and complexity per dollar than Scotch.


Review: Black Velvet Reserve 8 Years Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
8 Years; Ex-bourbon
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Black Velvet (Lethbridge, Alberta)

A “reserve” version of black velvet which has spent an additional 5 years in casks - it is indeed a huge step up. Not available in Ontario but available in some other parts of Canada and in the USA.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

Fairly subtle…light spice, light wood, light grain, light pine. It also has some nice white wine and herbal notes. The nuances are bourbon-like, with vanilla and dried fruit coming through – but also spicy notes, peach, and a thread of floral notes. Very much in the style of a classic Canadian whisky (not necessarily a modern one, though), with a light complexity to a whisky which is light-bodied with a spicy edge.

This reminds me of a Crown Royal, but, other than Danfield’s products, I don’t have much experience of better black velvet products. Definitely deeper and rounder than the standard BV, and it’s more like a Crown royal in terms of creaminess, vanilla, and brighter fruits like grape and gooseberry – like the limited edition, perhaps – but it isn’t quite as creamy and it sits a bit on the spicier side.

If you don’t have access to much Canadian whisky and you are wanting to explore, this is not a bad place to start getting exposure – but see if you can find any whiskies which I recommend more highly on my highest rating page.

Value: I’m not sure, as I couldn’t find prices online against my typical benchmarks. Against the whisky market (including Scotch, which drags the market up due to its high price for a given quality of taste) this is worth about $40, so I expect this is good value although I couldn’t find values online. I’d pay $26-30 for it, and I expect it’s even below that in the US.


Review: J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Wiser's Alumni Larry Robinson.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
6 Years; Refill, re-charred, ex-bourbon, rum, and virgin French oak
Recipe
Blend of Corn and Rye Whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Well this whisky is a bit nuts - 6 years old, matured in 6 casks - to commemorate Robinson’s 6 championships. I’ve never seen a whisky matured in both new oak, rum, and port casks - not to mention the others - so it is a bit unique. The corn is double distilled, with single-distilled rye.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019-2020

  • Bottling Code: L19080EW1429

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Quite the mix on the nose here, clearly the result of a number of different barrels of maturation (no surprise there). Lots of dried fruit, wine notes, dark brown sugar, vanilla yoghurt, and some richer rye notes. It’s quite a busy nose, almost so much so that I nearly missed the very obvious spicy oak characteristics. The fruit notes remind me a bit of a drink that I used to drink growing up from various fruits boiled in water and then strained.

It’s interesting to me that rye seemingly plays a bigger role in this spirit, even with the 6 barrel types. I would have expected it to have less punch from the grain, in Wiser’s typical style when they use finishes. These releases really show off the diversity possible from a distillery like Wiser’s. It’s a younger and punchier use of finishes, which you don’t see often.

Rich spicy character too, but the oak is compensating for a spirit which is too young, I think. I like finish-driven whiskies less, so not as much up my alley – but lots find this style quite appealing. It reminds me of a lot of blended Scotch where there are so many different flavours batting about.

The most complex of the new set of releases, but actually my least favourite - I tend to favour grain focus over finishes, so it’s not a surprise.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). It’s toward the bottom end of the category – it’s very good and interesting, but it isn’t as integrated as I like.

Value: Average, based on $45.