Calgary

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

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.

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Review: Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
10 yrs; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky is distilled in Alberta, by Alberta distillers, and is a rarity among whiskies – 100% unmalted rye whisky. As a straight rye, it is matured in new charred oak, giving it a big bold profile. 100% rye is unusual as a full component of a released whisky, though some canadian distillers produce and age 100% rye, corn, barley, and wheat whiskies as components of their blends. One reason 100% unmalted rye is unusual is because enzymes have to be added to the whisky to turn starch into sugar before the fermentation – and these microbial enzymes are grown and produced by Alberta Distillers themselves.

There are a few other Canadian 100% rye whiskies, including Alberta Premium (unmalted rye), Lot no. 40 (malted rye), and others, from time to time, such as the limited edition Collingwood 21 Year old (malted rye) – but this is the best of the lot. It is bottled by 35 Maple Street, a Californian company which selects and bottles the casks of Masterson’s. They also have released a 100% unmalted barley whisky, and a 100% wheat whisky all produced and aged in Canada.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: 3

  • Bottling Code: B11 244 TK31 11-0795

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Lots of oak on the nose, with the brilliant floral rye and light medicinal character. You can live in this nose for a bit! A bit of a creamy texture to this nose…caramel, vanilla – it might come off as a bit sweet if not for the wonderful spices – coriander, cinnamon, cloves, mint, black pepper. And herbaceous rye – the arugula, spinach, tobacco…I could go on – and I haven’t even gotten to the lilacs and dried hibiscus. On the palate, it starts out slow, but it is big – and the arugula comes in force, with a spicy, oaky finish that lingers nicely as the spices fade to the vegetal aspects and back to the oak and some rosehip jam. Beautiful balance. The mint is interesting – almost menthol-like, but not minty in the same character as seen in many bourbons and ryes.

When I first had Masterson’s I didn’t love it – I only liked it. More and more, I find this style is ever more my favorite. I can’t get enough of this stuff as my palate has developed and my preferences have shifted. This has more character and flavor than batch 5, and it’s the woodiest release I’ve tasted – and competes on an even level with my beloved batch 1, which is ever so slightly more refined and complex – but also softer. I still like batch 1 the best, but the difference in rating isn’t enough to keep these a point apart.

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

Value: Very High. This is just an awesome whisky. And, while not cheap, the quality of this whisky completely offsets the price.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: 5

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Oak has no problem coming off this nose – it fits in well with the spicy and honeyed notes. Vanilla, and rye that smells almost candied to me with the influence of charred wood. Elements of it are also slightly floral, as if there were a vanilla flower. There are fruity elements to this too, with a touch of apricot and peaches and bananas, and dried apricot emerging after some time. And, with all the above, there’s some pretty wonderful mossiness and earthiness – but it’s still all balanced beautifully. There’s a very slight chemical spirit component, slightly like petroleum, in the nose (which is also slightly present in Alberta Premium) – it fits in really well. It’s rich, and deep. What a nose!

Taste: A nice spicy bite, this one. The oak comes in with some sweet and spicy rye, with an underlying graininess and earthiness. It is certainly mouth-filling. There are layers of vanilla, manuka honey, creamy caramel, oak, brown sugar, apple, and some nuttiness. There are some typical dried apricot notes I usually find in whiskies matured in new charred oak…

Finish: This is an enduring, complex, and full-bodied finish, as if the whisky hasn’t left the mouth at all after it has been swallowed. A peppery rye fades to oak, vanilla, dried apricots, apple seeds, brown sugar, a touch of menthol, and a good dose of earthiness. What is more, there is a good underlying sweetness well matched to the very long finish.

Conclusion: This is fabulous. Complex, deep, delicous…it’s quite bold for a Canadian whisky, but, then again, it is bottled by an American company where the taste is for straight American ryes – big, bold, and often oaky whiskies. This one is really, really good.

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

Value: Average. A great whisky, but not that cheap (~110$).


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: 1

  • Bottling Code: B14 232 TK-8 14-0814

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Bold and full of strength - jam-packed with rye, banana, cinnamon, black tea, rose hip jam, turnip, and some medicinal notes. A phenomenal nose. Rich and full on the palate, with oak, vanilla, apple jam, and arugula along with spice and tannins in balanced measure. This is fabulous stuff, and, despite being so bold, is exceptionally clean, well-integrated, deep, and complex.

Why batch 1 was released after 5 and 3 I don't know, but this is terrific stuff - they must have saved some stock so they could release it after they saw how the market responded. This is the batch that won gold at the Canadian Whisky Awards, and one of the best ryes I have ever tasted.

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

Value: Very High. This is just an awesome whisky. And, while not cheap, the quality of this whisky completely offsets the price.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 15

  • Bottling Code: L4 069-161303

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Glorious stuff, once again! Since previous notes captured many of the details let’s focus on the broad differences and overall strokes here.  Rich oak, sweet dark cherries, coming against loads of rye spice with some creaminess holding the middle together as well. Sweet, yet it has a dry element to it as well, and there are lots of cloves here. The palate leads with oak and lots of clove, and some dry arugula and vanilla laden wood on the finish. Still quite creamy with lots of cherry. Waves of vanilla, oak, arugula, cinnamon, and clove on the tannic finish. Yet, the big bold rye doesn’t quite come through as beautifully as in previous batches – the oak seems to relatively hold a bit too much of its own here – to the point that it is actually slightly out of profile compared to the other batches (though generally in a very similar category, of course). More fruit, more oak, more confectionary, with less spice, grain, and complexity. The balance is still quite good but it is no longer as fascinating because of less complexity. However, we’re comparing to some legendary whisky – this is still terrific.

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

Value: Average. A great whisky, but not that cheap (~110$).


Review: Lock, Stock, and Barrel 13 Year Old Canadian Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
50.65%
Aging
13 Years; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky is another independent bottling of Alberta Rye - aged 13 years, and hard to find - it is available in the US but not in Canada or elsewhere, as far as I have heard. This, now, has been replaced by a 16 year old. However, on to it:


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Medicinal, spicy, grainy. A bit of a reserved nose – it takes some time to open up. Orange, root beer, heavy bread baked with molasses, black currant jam, barrel char, and a bit of terrific Alberta character peeping through with some time. Some nice brown cardamom too, oak (but not full of coconut and vanilla- rather just quite woody), arugula, and spinach. The palate has lots of orange, and is quite dark overall – lots of arugula, black tea, lots of spice, and a developing finish which is just fascinating. I wish we saw more Alberta rye at 50%. This is a fabulous bottle. The finish is full of arugula, spice, roasted flavours, and tannins lightly puckering up your mouth but fading quickly in a cleansing way. It leads to a whole lot of rye in your mouth. Wonderfully rich, too…just a step behind Masterson’s but it is certainly close. My favorite style of whisky, here….

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

Value: Average. It isn’t cheap (about 115 USD), but it is a good whisky and an old rye, at that.


Review: Alberta Premium 25 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Alberta Premium 25.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
25 years
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky, a 25 year old 100% rye whisky, is undoubtedly one of the most unique bottlings in the modern era of whisky. It was bottled in 2006, from distillate at least 25 years old at one of the foremost, if not the foremost, rye distillery in the world, Alberta Distillers. It sold in 2007 for an astounding price of 30 dollars – in hindsight almost a free giveaway, and there are stories of great competition for the bottles that were available in Ontario – preceding what now is all too common of a phenomena. There were between 5000 and 6000 bottles produced, and from time to time rumors circulate of another batch, but still no other batch has been released, nor is there any clear indication of another batch to come at this time.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A (the one and only)

  • Bottling Code: L01206263 Q208:30

  • Bottling Date: 2007

Nose: If you know the standard Alberta Premium, this is clearly that – but yet entirely different, and so much better. Much like if you smell a 12 year old and a (good) 18 year old of the same distillate, you are able to sit in wonder at what time in wood can do. Orange peel, caramel, rich wood, leather, vanilla, musty wood, and deep molasses notes as in old rums. There is some dustiness to it as well, and sugars and oak seem to come out as it sits. Yet, despite all the wood, it is surprisingly fresh. The nose grows, too – come back to it after a taste and you sense more of the dryness, more of what those years in oak do. With time, you get sitting grain – as you might find if you were to store rye in a mason jar and as the smell fills the jar pop the lid off and breath in. Oh so rich and dry….it’s one of those noses you remember.

Taste: Mouthcoating, with a wonderful balance of light vanilla, light spices, oak and wood which evolves in the mouth, and the lightest hint of berry fruitiness lifting the entire experience out. Rye is there, distinctively as well, not overcome by oak but leading the way in fact with light spices – clove, cinnamon – coming out in a flurry at the end. It’s long, and you can certainly make little sips go a long way. In little patches, you get little tastes of the arugula seen so clearly in the bold rye they use in their blends (and seen in detail in bottlings like Masterson’s, Whistlepig, of Jefferson’s).)

Finish: Strawberries, oak, vanilla, and leather. It is “smooth” in feel – I’m not talking about the undefined, over-used word to describe spirits as “smooth” but actually in the sense that it coats the mouth and seems to linger there nicely with almost a lubricating texture. The tannins are present ever so lightly to further enhance texture. The length is reasonable, but could have been enhanced had this been bottled above 40% – I can only wonder what 46% would have done to this one!

Complex, rich, and subtle – magnificent. This is a whisky that interacts with you – in almost a teasing fashion as you think the twists and turns are over to only discover more and more… the best Canadian whisky I have ever tasted.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation). This is one of the best Canadian whiskies ever bottled, and is a fascinating study.

Value: Very High. How often do you see a 25 year old 100% rye whisky going for 30$, moreover one that’s widely regarded as one of the best bottlings of Canadian whisky ever? This was the best value buy I’ve ever seen, and likely will ever see.


Review: Alberta Premium 30 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Alberta Premium 30.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
30 years
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky was aged for 25 years before being recasked together into fewer barrels so that the level of whisky in the barrels remained higher for the final 5 years of maturation. It was bottled in 2011, selling for an astounding price of 50$. You’d be lucky to find a 30 year old Scotch or American whisky these days less than 5 times that price….The whisky, as with others in the Alberta Premium line, is made from 100% unmalted rye and this has resulted in the oldest rye bottling in memory. This stuff, even with the big age statement, is far above its lackluster little brother which shares the brand name.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A (the one and only)

  • Bottling Code: L1076AD100450841

  • Bottling Date: 2011

Nose: Surprisingly more wood driven than the 25 year old with only 5 more years - the casks they were re-casked into must have been a bit more active. Maple, old mossy oak, leather, sharp rye, molasses, candied orange peel, toffee, caramel – dark, sweet, and rich. Dry, also. Vanilla, and an array of spices.

Taste: Once again, great feel – and the weight of the oak is present here with a kick of arugula which carries the palate into the finish. The overall whisky is tinted with orange peel, and it plays interesting contrast with the caramel, oak, pine, and herbal notes of the rye. Spicy, rich, oaky – and this works very well with the rye grain behind it.

Finish: Arugula, caramel, oak, spices – clove and cinnamon – with a bit of a spicy feel to it. The tannins are quite a bit higher than the 25 year old, but they are by no means too much. There is also some rye layered beneath the rest.

Not as dry or complex as the 25 year old, and the wood has taken over a bit too much in this in that the complexity of the spirit is not as well presented as in the 25 year old. The caramel notes, though good, are pulling a bit more weight than they should. Regardless, a fascinating, complex, and wonderful offering from Alberta – and the wood is certainly shining through very well in this one. The whisky is quite full of both weight and subtlety.

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

Value: Very high. $50 for a 30 year old, 100% rye - are you kidding!


Review: Pendleton 1910 Aged 12 Years Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
12 yrs
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller N/A (Canada)

This whisky is sourced by Hood River distillers, a company in Oregon who source this 100% rye whisky from Alberta. They bottle a few other items, of which one is Pendleton “Let er’ Buck” and another new release is Pendleton Midnight.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 120716715

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Nose: Dark rye bread and spice, maple, orange peel, and quite dry in feel. With time, vanilla emerges in greater magnitude. The nose has a lightly creamy feel, with butterscotch notes as well. The spice is quite woody, and complex – clove, nutmeg, dried ginger, and anise.

Taste: Maple, along with some rum notes and the same flurry of spices as before – clove, though, are at the forefront. Lightly, and ,perhaps oddly, sweet. At first glance, it might seem a bit plain – but there is a lot of complex subtlety- vanilla, earthy oak, citrus, cacao – with a continued dry feel to it.

Finish: Orange, brown sugar, and oak with a unexpected creaminess which seems to evolve and build which, combined with the orange, reminds me of creamsicles which is interesting when contrasted with the dry spice feel also present in the finish, and the finish lingers well with good feel and flavour.

Rich, dry, and spicy. The creaminess along with the dry spice takes this whisky to another level, from mediocre to quite good and intriguing. As I’ve had more of this, it has grown on me – but I had to take time with it, a brief rendering may not supply the whole picture. Also no stray bitterness, for good effect. This is a different showing of Alberta rye – creamy and subtle – compared to whiskies sourced by companies like Masterson’s and Whistlepig. Better than their other offering that I have tried, and well worth the price, I think. A very nice example of a dry and spicy Canadian style of whisky.

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

Value: High. Quite decent for sub-50$! A 12 year old 100% rye, no-less. Light, but complex.


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: Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Barley Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

If a 100% rye whisky, or, even more, a 100% wheat whisky are not that common – this, even more so, is perhaps the only of its kind – a 100% unmalted barley whisky. Malt whisky is abundant, and Irish whisky often contains a mix of malted and unmalted barley, but 100% unmalted barley is not common at all. The original spirit was distilled in the beer column still, then re-distilled in a stainless steel pot still (a “batch kettle”).

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Review: Alberta Premium Dark Horse Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

This whisky was released in 2012, an addition to the Alberta line of products. It is crafted for the “next generation” of connoisseurs looking for bolder, richer flavours. Some fuss has been made about the product because sherry was added to it (directly, rather than through a sherry cask), in a very small quantity. Legally, in Canada, it is still considered whisky if less than 1/11th by volume is not the aged whisky – so this is still whisky. The debate may continue as to whether this is different than barrels soaked with liquid sherry...Anyway, the sherry does it some good, just as the addition of the liters of sherry contained in sherry casks would. This is a mix of a 12 year old and a 6 year rye whisky, with corn whisky as well, aged in heavily charred oak barrels.

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Review: Alberta Springs Aged 10 Years Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

This whisky is aged 10 years, with a heavy rye mash – I believe it used to be made from rye entirely but now they also use some other grains from time to time – likely because rye is the most expensive of the common grains used for whisky and grains can be distilled to taste like other grains to an extent anyway. It comes from Alberta Distillery, which, incidentally, is the largest purchaser of rye in Western Canada.

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