Alberta

Review: Whistlepig 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
50%
Aging
10 Yrs; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky is somewhat notorious for trying to disguise both the source of its origin (Canada), and the fact that they don’t actually distill any of their product (yet). If you go hunting on the label, on the back, in the corner, is a small little statement “imported from Canada”. I should note, however, that not all of Whistlepig is sourced from Alberta - some of their recent rye bottlings are sourced elsewhere in the States.

Dave Pickerell, the former master distiller at Maker’s Mark, a well known whisky consultant who has a love for rye, is at the helm of the Whistlepig operation – and this product has been a huge success. The hope of the Whistlepig farm (in Vermont) is to do a complete seed to glass process, growing their own rye, distilling it, and aging it.

This whisky is sourced from Alberta Distillers, like some other successful and excellent whiskies such as Masterson’s Rye. It is made from 100% rye, unmalted – and, as Alberta does – this likely went in the barrel just short of 80% ABV, and came out likely above 80% before dilution. This shows the quality of the stuff that goes into the blends in Canada – typically a process with a “base” whisky which provides the bulk of the body and profile, and then this is “flavoured” with a stronger, perhaps spicier, whisky such as this one. I wish, among many others, that these flavouring ryes would be released because of their incredible quality…but sadly most of them are not - though we are starting to see more of them these days.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: Oak, and rye – simple, and beautiful – strong off the nose, with some wonderful earthiness too. Caramel, orange, a bit of arugula…a very similar style to masterson’s. Lots going on – vanilla starts to emerge, with some canola oil, tabacco, caramel, mint chocolate, star anise, a touch of smoke, and butterscotch – quite a wonderful and wide array of buttery and caramel notes. A bit of fruit, but it’s not overly fruity – cherry notes are present. A few odd notes start to come out with time, which I don’t like much – reminding me of ketchup chips (quite unlike anything else I’ve nosed). But, overall, quite good.

Taste: Fairly sweet, with a sharp arugula-laced rye body (the arugula is interesting – I find it strongly here, in Masterson’s, and in the Collingwood 21 Year old – all 100% ryes). There is a nice oaky underlying spice explosion (white pepper and cinnamon)- this is very, very enjoyable, and oak takes over towards the end. There is vanilla, too, wonderfully balanced in the palate. And, with all that, there are some nice, bright, floral notes hinting of lilac.

Finish: Marmelade, caramel, black currant jam, cinnamon, and a bit of dry oak….and our arugula. It grows as you drink more, with more spice (cayenne pepper, clove) and more fruit (I find green apple comes out)…and then woody notes like cedar start to appear. Very good body, spiciness, and sweetness.

To be honest, it’s surprising to me how much it reminded me of Masterson’s – they are both independently bottled from the same recipe and age of the same distillery. Whistlepig, though, is less intense – a bit woodier, and, perhaps darker – but less spicy, sharp, and refined with a bit less complexity and development.

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

Value: Average, at $70 CAD.


Review (2022)

  • Batch: A/354

  • Bottling Code: 20220317

  • Bottling Date: 2022

A few things have changed since the last time we checked this one in – while it used to be 100% unmalted barley from Alberta, it is now a blend of straight rye whiskeys. The nose is fruity, rich, and broad – capturing both the spicy, herbal, and rich rye to the big fruity characteristics that you can find in rye.  It isn’t as intense as it used to be and is a bit diluted compared to the previous version – however, it is still very nice and well-balanced. The spice/medicinal/herbal components are not as intense and I find it slightly less appealing as you don’t have the same intensity of rye at the forefront – it is somewhat diluted by corn. A nice, interesting whisky – but I like the younger, 100% rye piggyback over this version – that is an intense and fascinating whisky.

However, this might be more up the American rye-drinker style which still has corn as a significant player compared to the Canadian flavouring ryes which hold all the intensity of rye – which, if you’ve read a handful of my notes – is right in line with my favourite category of Canadian whisky.

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

Value: Lower at $100.


Review: Whistlepig Piggyback 100% Rye Aged 6 Years by Jason Hambrey

ABV
48.28%
Aging
6 Yrs; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This is a whistlepig that didn’t really even touch Vermont where the farm is! It’s made in Alberta, imported, and bottled in New York. But, no matter - that is disclosed and Whistlepig knows how to select good rye. This rye is pot-distilled and is 6 years old.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

What an amazing rich, spicy nose! I love it. Citrusy, spicy – but very earthy and herbal. Lots of charred oak, too. It really is a core expression of what Alberta pot still rye tastes like – so deep and complex and herbal. It’s unlike some of the other Alberta distillates – like the Canadian club 100% rye or the cask strength version which are dominated by this bright, candied fruit character. This is all the base notes, and I love it. It’s similar in profile to the other whistlepigs from Alberta or Masterson’s. What incredible spiciness!

Onto some quick  tasting notes – the nose has orange peel, oak, vanilla, caramel, baking spices, arugula, and light smoke. The palate is rich, with a huge backbone of oak, arugula, baking spice, watercress, orange peel, and pepper. The finish is sharp, with intense pepper fading to watercress, baking spice, and sweet oak.

This is some good pot still rye… obviously, I like this – it’s my favourite style of Canadian whisky – but how does it compare to some others like Masterson’s? It’s sharper and spicier – not as complex, subtle, or refined – but it packs a bit more punch in terms of sharpness. More caramel too – but you need a bit more of that with all the spice.

Terrific for the price – the list of whiskies like this under $50 in Ontario are quite slim. I love to sip as is, but this would do a nice trick in cocktails too.

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high at $45.


Review: Alberta Premium Cask Strength Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Alberta Premium Cask Strength 1.jpg
ABV
63.7-66.0%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

Alberta Premium is well-regarded as the best producer of rye whisky in the world. However, usually their rye is found in the standard bottlings of Alberta Premium, Canadian Club 100% Rye , or others. This is seen in the success of brands like Masterson’s or Whistlepig which source a lot, if not all, of their product from Alberta. If you were to just taste those brands, you might not realize how good the rye is that is made at Alberta Distillers. Not only is there rye of exceptional quality, the flavours of the different types of ryes made are quite diverse - you can tell this by tasting an Alberta Premium, Canadian Club 100% rye, and a masterson’s or a “imported from Canada” whistlepig side by side.

Here is one for the connoisseurs, though - a 100% cask strength rye! This is just fantastic. More than half of Alberta’s product gets sold directly into other brands (it is a big distiller) with a growing use from Jim Beam in some of the new Basil Hayden’s and others. But, I love Alberta rye, and I love cask strength - and I’m glad they left some for us.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L9212ADB01341225

  • Bottling Date: 2019

What a nose! This is much closer to Canadian Club 100% Rye (which is also made at Alberta Distillers), in terms of profile, than the standard Alberta Premium which is a relatively soft whisky compared to this. This is rich, and loaded up with rye. The nose has tons of complexity – banana, orange, clove, new charred oak, dried cherry,  grapefruit, dried orange, caramel, toffee, clove, nutmeg, black pepper, white pepper, wintergreen, corn on the cob – really, it’s nothing like the nose of the standard Alberta Premium which serves a different audience – a light, slightly sweet, slightly spicy whisky. Some dusty notes, too, which I don’t find too often anymore but which I quite like. The banana notes come out hugely at higher proofs, less so at lower proofs. Slight medicinal notes grow with time. This, is a whisky for rye connoisseurs. At least one time when you taste it, I recommend gradually adding water to the mix. This reveals all the layers of complexity here.

The palate has a nice touch of oak, vanilla, arugula, dried apricot, grapefruit zest, and more orange. There is lots of sugar caramel, too, and tingly spices. The “middle” of the whisky is medium bodied and textured, with dried fruit, orange, and vegetal notes on top with sweetness on the back end and spices around the edges. Hopefully that “visual” helps you understand how I understand this whisky. The arugula, oddly, gets a bit lost at lower strengths but is really good at around 48%. It’s also very good at cask strength.

The finish has lots of orange, rich rye spice (quite vegetal), grapefruit zest, orange, arugula, prunes, hibiscus, and oak. And if you think all rye tastes the same, give this a go beside Lot no. 40 cask strength!

A very nice whisky. It’s a bit too “CC100%” for me, with such intense bubblegum-like fruit that I find it isn’t as great as I’d hoped. I’d have preferred if it went the route of Masterson’s/Whistlepig/Jefferson’s which were all sourced from Alberta. However, it’s still very good and I you try it, if you can find it.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). Nearly into the next category, but not quite.

Value: High. A great price for this quality.

Curious about a second opinion? Check out Mark Bylok’s review here.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2020

Very similar to last year’s release – rich spices complemented by candied citrus, oaky caramel, rye bread, orange zest, vanilla cream…the spices maybe have a bit more pop in this release and the grain notes are slightly deeper -  but the whiskies are very much alike and the differences are smaller than the general taste comparison error. The palate brings in rich dark fruit – prunes, figs – on top of the candied citrus and the plethora of spice. Definitely a spice bomb here! The spices on the finish are just fantastic.

So much different than the usual Alberta Premium whisky. Really great.

I actually like this one around 45% - it still has a good bite, even then.

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High at $65


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2021

The profile of these releases, unlike some releases, are so consistent in character that some tasting notes need no repeating – there is the very bright, candied citrus notes alongside confectionary characters, stewed apples, toffee, vegetal rye, and SPICE. The palate follows – I love how this one maxes out the fruity characters of some rye whiskies while also presenting an incredibly rich, complex character vegetal and slightly medicinal character that sets Alberta’s ryes apart so specially.

How does this compare to releases 1 and 2? As I said, they are very consistent. But, if you want to pick them apart: this one is a bit more creamy, with a bit more toffee and the “breadth” between the top confectionary notes on one end and the spicy, vegetal backbone is a bit broader than in release 2. The spice is more evident (but not necessarily bigger), in release 1 and 2 than in release 3. The first releases are a little more spice/barrel centric, while this has a bit more fruit and toffee but without losing the depth. It actually seems like this one has just as much underneath but a bit more on top – at least that’s how I would describe it in a tasting. What a great release this has been!

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This was on the cusp of this category last year but it’s made it this year. It’s just ever so slightly better.

Value: still high, despite a price hike from $65 to $80. Great stuff!


Review: Barrel Aged Gateway Gin (Lone Pine Distilling) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of lone pine distilling.

Image courtesy of lone pine distilling.

ABV
45%
Aging
Ex-bourbon cask
Recipe
Wheat and botanicals
Distiller Lone Pine Distilling (Edmonton, AB)

This gin is made by maturing Gateway Dry Gin, the rich and spicy flagship gin of Lone Pine Distilling, in ex-bourbon barrels for a few months.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Very spicy and citrusy coriander, a heavy juniper character, and big lemon. The barrel character is there, with vanilla and toffee – but it doesn’t dominate. On the palate it has a very calming influence on this full-bodied gin, with vanilla and a creamy character coming alongside the big spicy body of the gin. The finish has charred oak, lemon, juniper, and more coriander.

A nice barrel aged gin – barrel character has been added without dominating, keeping it firmly in the gin category for mixing and sipping.

Highly Recommended.


Review: Rocky Mountain Gin (Lone Pine Distilling) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of lone pine distilling.

Image courtesy of lone pine distilling.

ABV
46%
Aging
None
Recipe
Wheat and botanicals
Distiller Lone Pine Distilling (Edmonton, AB)

This gin was created to evoke the wild landscape of the Rocky Mountains. Wild bergamot, wild mint, and roses all grow in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. These were used, alongside juniper, goldenrod, lemon and lime peels, ginger, cardamom, cubeb berries, orris root and a few other botanicals.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose on this one is different than the other Lone Pine gins – this is brighter, lighter, and more floral. Juniper, rose, meadow flowers, and coriander lead into a gin body with a surprising dry fruit character alongside spice, sharp herbal notes, lemon, and a nice light spicy character at the end with a slightly drying finish. The citrus really comes out at the end.

I really like how this one surprised me with the dried fruit on the palate – it really works. Very nice movement – floral, then fruit, then citrus.

Highly Recommended.