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

10 yrs; Charred Virgin Oak
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: Masterson's 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Masterson’s entered the market with an absolutely fantastic rye whisk(e)y, and has since released two other products – a straight wheat whisky and a barley whisky. All of the products are sourced out of Canada, again showing off some of the fantastic whiskies in Canada which often get lost into blends. This whisky is 12 years old, bottled at 50% ABV, and, from the looks of it, doesn’t have any added colouring. As a straight whisky, it is aged in brand new charred oak barrels. It also, I might note, is 100% wheat – not something you find in whisky very often. This whisky is a limited release and will not be a regular product. We know it is produced in Canada, and my guess would be Alberta distillery (surprisingly, not Highwood) - but that is a guess and nothing more.

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