Pike Creek

Review: Pike Creek 21 Year Old Double Barrel Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Pike Creek 21 Oloroso 3.jpg
21 Years; Finished in Various Barrels
Double Distilled Corn Whisky & Rye Whisky
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This is part of the very impressive “Rare Range” (previously Northern Border) collection, and, in the "Pike Creek" tradition which highlights the impact of finishing. In 2017, the release was finished in a scotch cask sourced through a chivas regal connection (both Pernod Ricard). They also sent over some lot no. 40 casks, for their finishing purposes - so if you see a "rye finish" somewhere in the chivas family/distillery set, it's a good chance it's lot no. 40.

In 2018, the whisky was finished in a variety of different oaks. About 50% of this blend was finished in French oak - both Quercas Robor and Quercas Petrea, about 25% of the blend was finished in Hungarian oak from the danube forest region (seasoned for 36 months), while the remainder was American oak. Each type of oak has a different set of characteristics, and the flavour compounds vary significantly - for example, in one sample of wood, vanillin was the highest in French oak, 20% less in American oak, and 35% less in Hungarian oak. Similar analysis can be done for other flavours - almond, smoky notes, etc. The finishing regime here highlights the breadth of oak, and, the best part is that it still isn’t too oaky.

In 2019, now, they’ve used a cask often used in whisky - but not often at Hiram Walker distillery - an Oloroso Sherry cask, bringing in classic sherry notes of dried fruit, rancio, spice, and some caramel to the old spirit.

Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017 (Finished in a Speyside Malt Cask)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

It smells old! And, indeed, it is. A rich nose, that just develops. Not really the same thing at all as it’s younger brother, the 10 year old pike creek finished in rum casks – the brand is about finishing, not about necessarily having the same profile (as when they switched from port to rum casks, but kept the brand the same). Not nearly with the same buttery, brown sugar notes of the rum finish. In fact, though they’re part of the same brand, I wouldn’t really compare them at all.

The whisky is largely double distilled corn whisky matured in reused casks...e.g., what is in Wiser’s 18 Year old, but a bit older and finished in a Speyside malt cask (take a guess... a Speyside from Pernod Ricard – Wiser’s also sent over some Lot no. 40 casks for them to use in finishing, though I haven’t seen the result of this yet). However, there’s also a bit of rye added in this time too. But, from the nose to the finish, a different whisky than the 10 year old.

The nose has rich blueberry, mushy peas, green apple, white grape, corn oil, and some old oak. Maple, toffee, candied nuts. The palate is very clean – light grain, celery seed, prune, with a finish that is slightly dry and spicy – an ever so light touch of either earthy barley or peat. Nice mouthfeel. Ever so lightly bitter on the finish – as I have found with most Pike Creeks, in fact. The finish, though, is still bright and fruity – mulberries, spices, and dried fruit (raisins, apricot). Finish isn’t very long, but is nice and grainy while it sticks around. A very nice whisky – those old age notes present in this whisky are continuing to attract me, and this blows the other pike creeks out of the park.

An interesting pour beside Wiser’s 18. Much lighter, more elegant, refined, and less spicy. But, better...Don Livermore, the master blender, said if he were to have two whiskies to sip from the Northern Border collection, he’d have Gooderham Little Trinity and Pike Creek 21. Interesting.

Terrific whisky. Fun to see Canadian whisky stepping up its game.

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

Value: Average.

Review (2018)

  • Batch: 2018 Rare Range (Finished in European Oak Casks)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L18235EW1202

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Oaky, through and through – and it’s nice. But it’s not the bourbon sort of oaky, where it’s loaded with new wood. Also not the Scottish “too oaky” – it has a huge kick of oak, complex, but it still sits lightly above a fairly vibrant, aged corn whisky underneath. It’s very nice – there are nice grain notes lurking underneath, and rich spices – green cardamom, nutmeg, clove. If you like oak, but in a broad sense (i.e. not just heavily caramelized oak) you’ll love this.

The palate has dried fruits, light spice, and some jujube-like fruitiness at the centre – but oak sits overtop everything – like a freshly sawn pile of oak. Earthiness finds its way into the centre of the palate before tannins take over and we are left with light, sweet corn, spice, and white grape. Honey, too – and sweetness opposes the light oak quite nicely.

The finish has a rich, dried flurry of spice – a mixed old bag of baking spice (clove, white pepper, nutmeg, green cardamom) and a kick of dried fruit that slowly unpacks itself alongside some toasted almond.

Natural comparators are last year’s Pike Creek, or this year’s Seasoned Oak – a 19 year old whisky finished in seasoned oak. At a very basic level, this is more oaky, the seasoned oak is much more fruity and seems to have more influence from vibrant rye, and last year’s Pike Creek 21 has light barley overtones like Scotch (as one might expect) – think applesauce and green apple.

I like this a lot more than last year’s release (which was also great). Highly recommended. Also, I prefer the seasoned oak release, which is in a similar category (old finished corn whisky) but quite different.

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

Value: Average.

Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019 Rare Range (Finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks)

  • Bottling Code: L19232EW1342

  • Bottling Date: 2019

This is finished in Oloroso sherry casks, and there are only 4481 bottles produced.

It definitely as a reddish hue from the sherry. No more twine on this bottle – I guess we are headed for a more elegant look.

Rich, woody, old age whisky aromas with a very pleasant fruitiness from the sherry. I was a little worried that the whisky would be too strongly influenced by sherry – not so! It’s quite well integrated. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised – old, light corn whisky would just get choked completely out by big sherry.  We have the usual, ethereal notes – but now lots more fruit and sherry-caramel: vanilla, light rum, apple seeds, and a really nice oaky earthiness – I guess a bit like decomposing, wet, wood that crumbles in your hand.

The palate is big and woody, with a load of dried fruit coming in near the mid-palate, followed by freshly cut wood and finally some oxidized wine notes. Largely the notes are as expected, but I find the texture is interesting - it’s quite woody with a good dose of structure from the tannins, but it also has a syrupy sweetness from the sherry. The finish is oaky, slightly tannic, with rich caramel-like sherry and some oxidized wine notes. Nicely done! With time, the wood dies out and the sherry remains – and it’s very nice. Tingly tannins keep you reaching for more, which I always like (until the bottle is done!).

Quite a nice effort. I find I prefer it without added water, which just brings out the woodiness even more – but a drop or two to bring it to 43% works well. I don’t know if sherry is the perfect match for the spirit – but it’s just about exactly what I want from a special release – a variation on the theme of Pike Creek while doing something different that pushes the boundaries a little. That being said, it’s a very good match nonetheless and I quite like what it does to the spirit. I’d love to see a first-fill ex-bourbon finish one of these days, but perhaps that would be too sweet.

It took me a few times to nail this review and decide what I thought - which isn’t typical, and is always a good thing – because I feel I need multiple assessments to actually cover the range of what is in the glass.

 I quite liked what they did last year with the various oaks, and I thought that release was brilliant and very interesting. This, obviously, is less wood-focused and has a very different focus, and may appeal to nostalgic scotch drinkers very well. My favourite Pike Creek to date, and my favourite of the Rare Range/Northern Border Collection this year.

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

Value: High. $90 for 21 years of age, well crafted, and complex? Yes please.

Curious about another review? Check out Mark Bylok’s review on Whisky.Buzz.

Northern Border Collection 2019: Corby’s Rare Range is Inspired by Consumers by Jason Hambrey

Northern Border Collection.jpg

Fall is always a peak time for whisky. As the weather cools, the limited releases start to roll out as we all tuck in for winter and arm ourselves with a few fireside drams. Forty Creek, perhaps, started the Canadian fall releases with their acclaimed limited bottlings under John Hall’s guidance. Forty Creek continues the tradition – this year with their limited release Victory – but we have others in the mix like the Canadian Club 42-year-old and Alberta Premium’s cask strength and 20 year old release. Add to that a load of micro-distillery limited bottlings which are made available locally, if not nationally.

The most exciting set of Canadian whisky in the past three years has been the set of releases from Corby’s over the past four years. They portray just what you want in a limited release – a variation on the theme of the brand. What makes this set unique in Canada, though, is that it is a variation on the theme of multiple brands and not just one – Pike Creek is focused on the effect of finishes, J.P. Wiser’s is corn forward with a dash of rye (usually), Gooderham & Worts  is made from multiple grains and multiple stills, and Lot no. 40 is the “unapologetic”, intensely flavoured, 100% rye whisky.  But, every year, the limited editions are more than just a variation on the themes – they are a substantial step up in age and ABV.

This year, perhaps as always, the headliner might be Cask Strength Lot no. 40, coming in at 57%. The whisky itself, made with 100% rye, comes initially from re-used Canadian oak barrels and new American oak barrels. Then, 75% of the barrels were finished in French oak, meaning that most of the whisky in the bottle has seen new oak, twice. Don Livermore, the master blender at Hiram Walker, said the decision was based on his observations during his consumer blending classes at the distillery. The French-oak finished rye was such a hit that, in his words, he had to “listen to the audience”. It is Livermore’s favourite of the bunch.

With the Gooderham & Worts “49 Wellington” release, the blenders went nuts using red winter wheat , malted barley, and – of course – old corn whisky. This, combined with a variety of barrels - amber rum barrels, new American oak, re-used Canadian whisky casks, and casks with red oak inserts to give a distinct cedary taste (“you love it or hate it” says Livermore). As far as I’ve tasted, this is the first whisky I’ve had with any red oak maturation - white oak is the ubiquitous species used in whisky and spirit maturation. “49 Wellington” is clocking in at 19 years of age and 49% ABV.

Pike Creek is a 21 Year old is a corn whisky with a bit of rye added to it, finished in Oloroso sherry casks. While common in the Scotch industry, sherry casks aren’t used commonly in Canada (or at the home of the brand, the Hiram Walker distillery). It sits at 45%, and it’s actually my favourite of the bunch this year.

Wiser’s has also released their flagship older whisky – 35 years in the first two releases – but now at 23 years of age. This year it is in the bottle at a whopping cask strength of 64.3% ABV, a very rare example of a cask strength blend. The 23-year-old release was chosen for two reasons – 1) Don Livermore has worked at the distillery for 23 years, and 2) cask strength concentrates some of the old-age notes in Canadian whisky to such a degree that they can be a bit overpowering. Thus, a 23-year-old is a bit less aggressive in this regard than a 35-year-old. I’ve tasted a few old Canadian corn whiskies at cask strength myself, and I prefer them with a bit of water (even though I generally love cask strength whiskies). So, why release at cask strength at all? Livermore’s response, as before, was that he has been listening to the “wisdom of the crowd” in blending classes and whisky festivals. And he has decided to give those consumers what they want. Now there is a responsive brand - cheers Corby!

Review: Pike Creek 10 Year Old Double Barrel Canadian Whisky (Rum Finish) by Jason Hambrey

10 Years; Finished in Rum Barrels
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Corby, the company which owns the Pike Creek brand, seemingly slipped this one right by us - without much fanfare, pike creek switched from having its second maturation in port casks to rum barrels. Slowly, rum appeared on the label and the whisky is quite different - the reason - rum casks are cheaper and easier, given the global shortage of port casks. Simple economics, but I think this one panned out well for the flavor as well:

Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

This is actually quite a bit different than the port finished product. I find the finishing actually fits in better here than the port finished version – this somehow better elaborates some of the rich grain notes underneath. The palate and finish, particularly work better than before and it’s a bit cleaner. The fruit notes are completely different than the port finished product – you can see how these whiskies are from the same family - started off the same but they are completely different now.

Rich grain, plum, and fruit – yet definitely with a rum influence with molasses, berries, and a different set of spices than before. Light new oak, corn husks, vanilla, and still with lots of spices – not vibrant but more like the dulled notes of a stale bag of mulling spices. The palate brings forth a classic rye centre, with more wood, spices, with brown sugar and rum notes coming in on a rolling sweet and creamy finish full of oak, brown sugar, pine and light molasses. Great feel on the finish, as the sugar wave dies down we are left with more green wood, tannins, and dry spices.

Though a necessary innovation, it appears to have paid off.

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

Value: Average.

Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A rich, structured whisky full of hibiscus, prune, raisins, currants, maple, rich corn, and concord grapes which finishes in a flourish of spice and old wood. The rum character is really here – rich spices, full of molasses, and sweet too. I wonder if they use Lamb’s rum casks to finish (it would make sense, but no evidence, just musings). Those rum spices are really good – especially at the end the whisky rides on a wave of sweet and oaky molasses.

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

Value: Average.

Review: Pike Creek 10 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

This whisky, along with Lot No. 40 and Gooderham & Worts, were three fabulous Canadian whiskies, marketed for connoisseurs and produced for some time before production ceased. In 2012, the whisky was re-released. The whisky is double distilled, unlike the typical triple distillation of Canadian whisky. There is another version of this whisky, without an age statement, which is exported to the US. The whisky is named after the creek by the aging warehouses of Hiram Walker.

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