lot no. 40

Review: Lot No. 40 Rye Explorations Peated Quarter Cask by Jason Hambrey

Virgin Charred Oak; Peated Quarter Cask
100% Rye
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

We’ve seen a few distillers in Canada experiment with using peated quarter casks, notably Shelter Point - but, to the best of my knowledge, they’ve all been done using malted or unmalted barley as the base. Here you have two of the largest components of flavourful whisky, married: pot still, 100% rye whisky and peat.

After initially aging in new oak, it is finished for 17 years in first-fill peated single malt casks.

This is one of Wiser’s special releases this year, edition 1 of the “rye explorations” expression after a few successful years of cask-strength lot no. 40.

Review (2021)

  • Batch: Release No. 1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2021

There is so much going on with the nose. On top – spice notes and a real kick of earthy, smoky peat. But then you also have bold, fruity, spicy, and floral rye underneath. The nice black tea notes of Lot 40 come through nicely. The rye is big and brash – it isn’t rounded out. This continues on the palate – smoke on top, rich fruity rye in the middle, and peaty earthy notes underneath. It’s a whole mishmash of flavours exploding in the mouth, but it doesn’t feel very organized or balanced. The earthy peat notes combined with the rye notes gives something somewhat reminiscent of a tequila – it doesn’t taste like one, but it has some of the same interplay between different flavour groupings.

This isn’t up my alley – but it is among the most unique Canadian whiskies (or whiskies in fact) that I’ve tasted. But, to me, peat and rye here aren’t a great marriage. I’d welcome more experimentation that has more to do with other factors than barrel finishing. While I understand finishing is a pretty easy way to do something different, it just isn’t that interesting most of the time. And, that’s something of the territory of the pike creek brand. I’d be all over some yeast, grain, fermentation, or maturation experiments that didn’t involve a finishing cask.

Value: Low at $90.

Review: Lot No. 40 Cask Strength Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Lot no 40 cs.jpg
Virgin Charred Oak
100% Rye
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Here we have a rarity - a cask strength, 100% Canadian Rye whisky, well matured and released by a major producer. The only other bottle I can think of which fits into this category (so far) is Whistlepig's Boss Hog, an independent bottling from Alberta Distillers (though I must note that there are some notable young cask strength ryes from micro distilleries like Stalk & Barrel). Basically, it is the connoisseur's dream - this juice.  Given the splendor of the standard Lot no. 40, you'd expect this to do some good work too. Originally single casks of this were handed around at whisky festivals, but now we have an annual release - beginning in 2017 at a very commendable 12 years of age. The golden age of Canadian whisky is here!

Review (2016)

  • Batch: 05 05100 (55.8%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: June 2016

This sample was generously sent to me by Mark Bylok of whisky.buzz, who also reviewed this batch of Lot no. 40 CS.

Lots of onion pickle, in fact, in this tasting. Dill, floral rye, new wood, and lots of nuts - hazlenuts, walnuts, almond, clove, floral rye, black tea, terrific caramel, cinnamon, dried rose, dried hibiscus, praline, rosehip….

Brilliant tingling spices on the palate, with lots of spice, caramel, orange, clove, blood orange, cola, walnut…immense at cask strength and lots of rye! But it comes easy with lots of nut, tea, and oak notes surrounding. Some terrific dried floral notes too. Dries off in a huge, spicy finish still with lots of nuts and more light rye notes – almost jasmine-like in their floral nature - and cinnamon, tobacco, drying reeds in the fall, arugula, nut brittle, and some orange peel. Not to mention lots of continued floral notes. Not hard to drink and balanced at cask strength.

This is amazing – but I can only imagine a batch version. As it is, you can tell it is more of a single barrel given the profile and doesn’t quite have the breadth of complexity in some lot. No 40s, but it makes up for it with emphasis and magnitude.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I review to date get this recommendation or higher). To get a cask strength rye whisky of this complexity, depth, and breadth is just awesome.

Value: N/A (not available on the market)

Review (2017)

  • Batch: 1st Edition (4968 bottles)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L17200 EW13:27

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What a whisky! What a nose. This is definitely Lot no. 40, and exactly what you would expect – a lot of punch and flavor! Coincidentally, natural colour too. Rich: caramel, lilacs, loads of spices, dried fruits, apricot, brioche, lilacs, clove, nutmeg, icing sugar...it gets better with air. The palate has lilacs, loads of rye, dried apricot, patchouli, cedar, dried apricot, black tea – wow. This batched version is better than the barrels I have tasted. The finish is loaded with rye and oak, along with dried fruit (prunes, raisins, dried apricot), cumin, lemon zest, orange peel (dried), icing sugar, fresh spinach, and a touch of dill.

This batch smells older and a bit more developed than the lot no. 40 which is on shelves now, though I think I’ve had a bad batch in my last bottle – but this still smells a bit more mature than the lot no. 40s on shelves now.  If you like Lot no. 40 (at all), you should buy this. Amazing whisky.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation). One of the best whiskies I’ve ever tasted - it’s mighty, complex, and incredibly moreish. If you want to see what great cask strength Canadian whisky can be, look no further than here.

Value: Very high. $70 CAD for something like this! Take a look at the best of the cask strength American ryes, as a comparator - you won’t find something to spar with this at this price (especially one with 12 years of age!).

Review (2018)

  • Batch: Second Edition (11 Years Old; 58.4%)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L18204 EW1325

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Very different than last year’s release (but still lot no. 40) - it came from a different bond, and each bond has different characteristics. It is very fruity – strawberries, cherries, plums, prunes, and green apple – but also with floral notes – lilac, spice, clove, loads of brown sugar and oak. There’s a nice caramelized nut characteristic too, verging on corn – like candied pecans or caramel popcorn. Rich, deep oak opens up as it sits. Gorgeous. The sweet nature of the oak really comes out too – it is a nice complement to the massiveness of the whisky everywhere else.

The palate is rich, oaky, fruity – tons of lilac and tons of spice. It’s what you expect from the nose – but the fresh fruit character, like strawberry jam that has just started to boil when you make it – is central and exceptional. Still, it’s tempered by loads of spice and oak. Really big, even with water added. Also, a bit less of a “grip” and movement on the palate compared with last year, even with a bit less ABV. But, still absolutely awesome.

Really nice tannins on the finish, and dries out really well. Spices slowly unfold, alongside dried fruit, green apple skins, and tannins. The more you drink, the bigger and better it gets. Lovely.

In comparison – last year’s release was more woody, richer, and heavier – and you get the full range of coconut and rich nut oils and black tea there which aren’t as big here. Think spicy/oaky /floral/fruity vs fruity/spicy/floral/oaky in terms of flavour impact. And the fruit is more vibrant – like fresh berries – vs say berry jam. This is still epic, but I liked the darker richer character last year – and it was a bit deeper.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I review to date get this recommendation or higher). This is still an outstanding bottle, but it doesn’t have the depth or integration to take it to the level that the 2017 release was. Still, outstanding - incredibly big, fascinating, rich, and deep.

Value: High. An increase in price still leaves this as an excellent value buy, but increases in price could change this in the future.

Review (2019)

  • Batch: Third Edition (57%)

  • Bottling Code: 119204EW132

  • Bottling Date: 2019

75% of this whisky is aged in French oak, and we’ve now lost our age statement. 3554 bottles produced.

The notes on the nose are so typical of the brilliant, intense, and complex lot no. 40. It’s very oaky, -much more oaky than the previous two editions – and it does quiet the volume on a few of those notes. Floral lilac, fennel, dried apricot, dried peach, apple, toasted rye bread, toasted malt, and an intense, slightly bitter, woodiness. The creamy, vanilla-focused oakiness almost makes the nose buttery - like butter whipped up with sugar and a touch of vanilla. I just love the floral notes here – very dense, very intense – almost dried in character. Rich, bright, grain notes emerge as it sits. The French oak is present – it adds a really spicy, slightly floral characteristic.

The palate follows – deep fruit, deep oak, deep spice. It’s HUGE, and it takes you on quite a ride. A nice rich caramel characteristic bind together the floral, spicy rye and the sharp, tight wood notes. Slightly bitter with the oak. Lots going on, from tropical notes of dried mango and cardamom to floral notes of lilac and rose to spicy characteristics of nutmeg and fennel to grainy notes to charred and toasted oak notes. I thought I might prefer this with less water to tame the oakiness, but I actually think it is better balanced at cask strength. It’s still a bit buttery, and has a dry-aged steak type savouriness which is quite nice. The finish has a lot of heft and displays all of the characteristics of the palate – but the oakiness here makes its best mark – spicy, sweet, evolving, and drying. Excellent finish. My favourite finish of any of the past three releases.

An oak bomb, combined with a distillate which is big enough to play the sparring character. It has a more youthful edge than the previous two editions (but the extra oak plays into that also).

These days, oaky whiskies are a bit of a rage – so I imagine this will be right up some people’s alley. It’s a bit too much for me, but it’s still thoroughly enjoyable. I really like the core of it, but even watered down to 43% I still like the regular lot no. 40 more – but it’s because it has more oak than I prefer, even though I would say this is a better whisky.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). If you’ve never had this, you have to. Perhaps the most well-known cask strength rye in the world is Thomas Handy, but the Lot no. 40 CS is something I like more than most Handy releases – and I expect many would, especially rye-heads, if they could get their hands on it.

Value: High. My equations usually suggest this is in my “average” category but this is one of the few over-rides I give. Anyone who is serious about rye needs to try this stuff. I don’t like it as much as the previous years, but it is still awesome whisky which should be sought-out.

Curious about a second opinion? Check out Mark Bylok’s review at 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!