Wayne Gretzky

The Best Canadian Cream Whiskies by Jason Hambrey

Ceili’s photo courtesy of Highwood Distillers. Forty Creek Cream Photo courtesy of Forty Creek Distillery.

Part of my duty as a judge of the Canadian Whisky Awards is to judge flavored whiskies, which I don’t love - but I do genuinely enjoy the cream whiskies that come as a part of the group. Here are a few of my favourite Canadian cream whiskies. It didn’t take me long to realize that, as prominent (and delicious) as Bailey’s is – there are better options available in the Canadian market.

Ceili’s Signature Irish Cream

This is produced by highwood distillers, and is my favourite Canadian cream liquer. It is simple, but it does perfectly what it should – provide a thick, creamy product with a delicious centre that is enjoyable. It’s made with Canadian whisky and imported Irish cream, which is know for being floral and rich compared to other creams due to the diet of Irish dairy cows. Last year, it was the Canadian whisky of the year in the flavored category – it has won other awards as well. It is creamy, and nutty with pecans, praline, milk chocolate, brown sugar, and toffee. It has a wonderful creamy centre surrounded by caramel – a terrific sipper over ice or companion to hot chocolate or coffee. It entered 2 of the last 3 Canadian Whisky Awards, and each time was my favorite.

Forty Creek Cream

This was introduced a few years ago and is the most complex of the Canadian cream whiskies, and a very good sipper and mixer. It took home the 2017, 2015 and 2014 canadian flavoured whisky of the year. However, the complexity makes it a little less versatile because of the nutty, caramel, and coffee characteristics that can loom large. It is creamy and nutty, with Ferrero rocher, hazelnut skins, milk chocolate, and slight baking spice. It actually displays a flash of Forty Creek brilliance, which I quite like.

Gretzky cream

This is made with Gretzky No. 99 Whisky and fresh ontario cream. Nutty (hazlenuts), very creamy – with a rich rising cream coming through towards the finish. A clean, smooth finish full of cream and light wood spice.It has a terrific dairy characteristic at its core that you don’t always see in cream whiskies. The finish is smooth, sweet, creamy, and a bit spicy.

Review: Wayne Gretzky Ninety Nine Proof Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
49.5%
Aging
3 years (bourbon barrels); Wine Cask Finish (100 days+)
Recipe
Malted Rye, Unmalted Rye, Corn
Producer Wayne Gretzky Estates (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario)

Many critics consider Canadian whisky undervalued – in part because of reputation which isn’t generally merited at any shelves except the bottom. indeed, the most expensive Canadian whisky in Ontario is usually only a hair above $100 – we’ve had 21 year old rye whiskies selling for under 50$, 30 year old ryes selling for $50, 25 year old ryes selling for $25. The most expensive whisky in the LCBO now is a (terrific) 21 year old Canadian Rockies for $126. Gretzky is making a bold move, here – putting their nice looking new release in at $100, saying a lot for a whisky that is 3 years old.

Available at the Gretzky Winery and Distillery.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 711015:20L3 54SL278

  • Bottling Date: 2017

 

The nose is still in the oaky, spicy gretzky style – but bigger, and with more overt wine influence. Rich dried fruit, charcoal, black cherry, wax, and lots of old cinnamon and clove. Dried apricot, prunes, dried cherry, anise, fresh oak, caramel sauce – all there as well. The palate is very much a whisky, but with loads of wine influence – with notes of a spicy, big, cabernet blended in. The spices continue, along with oak, clove, charcoal, and toffee – with a finish of red wine tannin, clove, anise, cashews, and buttery toffee. The finish is really nice. A bigger whisky than the other Grezkys, and it does very well at this strength. Very enjoyable (especially on a cool, rainy day like today!).

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

Value: Low. Against Scottish single malts, this might compete in a value category, but against whisky as a whole $100 is a lot for this.


Review: Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Ice Cask Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
41.5%
Aging
3 years (bourbon barrels); Ice Wine Cask Finish (~4 months)
Recipe
Rye, Corn
Producer Wayne Gretzky Estates (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario)

There is little more Canadian than Wayne Gretzky, or, for that matter, Ice Wine - the wine that put Canadian wine on the map in 1991 when Inniskillin's 1989 Vidal Ice Wine won Gran Prix D'Honneur at Vinexpo. It is the one segment of wine in which Canada truly produces world class, best of the world - a sweet, dessert wine made from sweet grapes that have are harvested after they have frozen on the vines (typically harvested overnight at temperatures below -30 Centegrade) and are gently crushed to release an ultra-sweet grape juice to make a sweet, acidic dessert wine which is often matured for a time in barrels.

Gretzky isn't the first to make whisky matured in ice wine casks, but I think they are the second after some nice bottlings froms Glenora. This bottling is blended from sources whisky that has been matured for at least 3 years in first fill (i.e. once used) bourbon barrels and then finished in 225 litre Gretzky vidal ice wine barrels for about 4 months. To balance the sweet and light fruitiness from the ice wine, the amount of rye whisky going into this blend on top of corn.

Coming to the LCBO in October 2017.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose has some really nice, clean, fruit – white grape, gooseberries – alongside a buttery, spicy spirit that is slightly heavy. It still carries some of the oiliness and charcoal of the Gretzky brand, but the woodiness is not as overt and the light fruit brightens the nose, and the palate. It develops well, and the fruity and sweet wine grows very nicely with time. The palate has some spicy oak, gooseberry, white raisin, and clove – it is slightly tangy – leading into a buttery finish full of bright fruit, spice, and fading to oak tannin. The cherry on the Sundae is the light bit of oxidized wine at the end. Nicely balanced.

On one hand I feel that it is still a bit heavy to fully embrace the ice wine cask – and yet, if it were lighter, I wouldn’t like the style as much. But it is a level above the Gretzky Red Cask, and I like it much more – lighter, cleaner, and more elegant. If you liked the Red Cask, you’ll probably like this too. Impressive work.

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

Value: Average. Against Canadian whiskies, it’s on the lower side, but it’s about par for the course against whiskies in general.


Review: Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Red Cask Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
3 years (bourbon barrels); Wine Cask Finish
Recipe
Malted Rye, Unmalted Rye, Corn
Producer Wayne Gretzky Estates (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario)

This whisky is produced by the Wayne Gretzky brand, which started with wine and has started to delve into whisky. It is whisky which is sourced, made from 100% Canadian ingredients, blended, and finished in a Gretzky wine cask. Wayne Gretzky loves wine, and moved into the wine business operating a vineyard in Niagara-on-the-lake from 2008 to 2011. The brand is now owned by Andrew Peller who also own Peller Estates and Sandbanks. Whisky is the new endeavor, alongside a brand new winery and distillery opening in 2017 at Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Each bottle of the whisky supports the Wayne Gretzky foundation, which helps youth be equipped to have opportunities to play hockey.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

On the nose, rich maple, charred wood, candle wax, and terrific rye lead the way along with a well integrated wine character – lots of berries here alongside some terrific, clear cut, white pepper. The grains are still present. The smoky wood and wine notes work wonderfully together! It is a bit raw – but it comes together very well overall. On the palate, currants jump out alongside blackberries and cacao before the grain takes over with rich corn and a finish of creamy oak and vanilla. The palate is interesting, and is even better than the nose. It finishes with some citrus pith, more vanilla, oak, cacao, currants, and the lightest touch of bitterness. The wine influence is there, and it fits in well without clashing or dominating the grains. The finish is sweet, fruity, and lightly creamy – bringing to mind, in fact, vanilla yogurt mixed with berries. And I do love the bit of rye in here. Another great Canadian whisky under $40. Pleasant enough to sip such that you miss the complexity underneath.

It is somewhat natural to want to compare this to 66 Gilead’s Crimson rye, a rye whisky finished in a pinor noir cask. The whiskies are very different (and I quite like both of them). Crimson Rye is very winey, and fruity in a different character – much lighter, with cucumber and green apple – while the Gretzky whisky is more grain and oak driven, with fruitiness from the wine more along the lines of dried fruit and berries. I am a bit of a sucker for the mushroom notes in Crimson Rye, but that whisky is bigger and more raw than Gretzky’s, and a bit less refined. However, Crimson is a bit more interesting and unique – but some of the raw-ness detracts.

I’m really glad for the price point of this whisky. They could have pushed it into a higher category, and it would have been too much. But this makes it accessible and really lets it shine in the category. I've liked it more with successive tastings. Another score, Gretzky…

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). It’s a bit oaky and dense at times, but this is a pretty unique style in Canadian whisky and it’s worth a go at least once.

Value: Average, nearly high, at $35.