Last Barrels

Maker: Corby, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Pernod Ricard)20170407_200835

Distilled: Hiram Walker, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (Pernod Ricard)

Style: Unblended sour mash Canadian whisky

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 45%

Price: $65, Canadian ($48.50 US; Ontario only)

Thanks to Andrew for helping me acquire this bottle!

Appearance: Medium copper with long clingy legs.

Nose: Sharp young oak, black walnut, old oak, grape soda, alcohol.

Palate: Full bodied and silky. Dark chocolate covered caramels, caramel corn, bubble gum.

Finish: Plum juice, chopped walnuts, alcohol

Parting words: This whisky is weird. It’s made from a bourbon-like recipe of  80% corn , 11% rye and 9% malt (similar proportions to Early Times or Buffalo Trace) all mixed together before fermentation (unusual for a Canadian). Unlike most Canadian whiskies, it was also made with a sour mash like bourbon, but it was soured in an unconventional way. According to Canadian whisky sage Davin de Kergommeaux,  master distiller Jim Stanski placed a carton of milk on the counter in the lab at Hiram Walker and allowed it it to sour. He then poured it into the mash to lower the Ph. The idea seems insane but it’s hard to argue with the results.

This limited run (2,000 cases) whisky is called Last Barrels because it made up of the last barrels filled at Hiram Walker during Jim Stanski’s tenure as master distiller. Fear not, Jim didn’t leave the distillery, he just moved up the corporate ladder. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) was looking for a special release for Father’s Day 2016 and the folks at Corby thought Jim’s wacky last batch would be a perfect fit.

I was not a fan of the nose at first, but it has mellowed since I first opened (that or my nose got used to it). It is too sharply woody, like craft bourbons aged in small barrels. It’s wonderful on the palate, though. Full bodied and lucious, it’s like cuddling up in a soft blanket with a soft friend on a warm winter night. It’s stupid cheap too, probably too cheap for how few barrels there are. I’m not complaining, though. There are a few still kicking around the LCBO system, but with the limited number of bottles and a strike looming, act fast. Wiser’s Last Barrels is highly recommended.

 

Gooderham & Worts

Maker: Corby, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (Pernod-Ricard)wp-1472861776243.jpg

Style: Canadian blend (Four grain)

Age: NAS

ABV: 44.4%

Price: $45 Canadian (about $35 US)

Appearance: Dull caramel.

Nose: Fresh cut orange, roasted malt, oak, cut hay, butterscotch.

Palate: Brown sugar, black walnut, plum, alcohol, aniseed.

Finish: Grape soda, alcohol.

Parting words: Gooderham & Worts is an old name in Canadian whisky, originally manufactured in York, Ontario, now a part of Toronto. G & W was one of the biggest Canadian whisky brands during the nineteenth century. In 1923 it merged with Hiram Walker and production continued in Toronto until 1990. The area around the old distillery is now the distillery district development.

This latest incarnation is distilled at the Corby plant in Windsor, also home to Canadian Club and Wiser’s. The bottle is big and beautiful with a picture of the old distillery on the front and a picture of a windmill on the back, perhaps based on the windmill co-founder James Worts used to kill himself.

G & W is balanced and complex with a fairly robust ABV that adds enough punch to keep things interesting to the last sip. I only wish that it had even more punch and was available in the US. Maybe it will be eventually. Gooderham & Worts is recommended.

Alberta Premium

Maker: Alberta Distillers, Calgary, Alberta, Canada (Beam Suntory)wp-1467151542331.jpg

Style: Canadian Rye

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

LCBO price: C$26 ($20 US)

Appearance: Pale copper.

Nose: Roasted corn, cut grass, leather, lavender, alcohol.

Palate: Semi-dry. Woodruff, jalapeno, butterscotch.

Finish: Hot and grassy. Hangs around a long time.

Mixed: Didn’t get a chance to try it in many drinks. It very well in an Old Fashioned and excellent in a Sazerac. OK in a Manhattan, but I that may have been the weird vermouth I used.

Parting words: Alberta Distillers is a unique distillery. Unlike most Canadian distillers, Alberta doesn’t produce a multi-grain blend, but whiskies from 100% rye. This made it very attractive at the beginning of the rye boom when rye was hard to come by. A few companies like Whistle Pig and Jefferson’s took to bottling Alberta rye and charging a premium for it. It was good stuff to be sure, but it’s hard to beat the original for the price. It’s not available on US shelves, but those of us fortunate to live near the border have no excuse not to grab a few bottles when we can. Canadian Club (also owned by Beam Suntory) has been using Alberta rye to fill its new Chairman’s Select label (Now available in the US for about the same price as Alberta Premium), so if this sounds like your cup of tea, it might be worth trying that one out. Needless to say I’ll be reviewing CC Chariman’s Select in the near future.

At any rate, Alberta Premium is a good solid whisky at a good price. Equally good mixed and neat. It’s recommended.

Forty Creek Confederation Oak

Maker: Forty Creek, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada (Campari)2016-05-20-20.38.49.jpg.jpeg

Style: Blended Canadian Whisky

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $65

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Brown sugar, oatmeal, vanilla, a little oak, bubblegum.

Palate: Full bodied. A liquid granola bar. Honey, cinnamon, rolled oats, butterscotch, alcohol, toasted oak.

Finish: Grape soda, stronger oak, alcohol, lavender.

Parting words: Confederation Oak is so named for the old growth Canadian white oak trees that gave their lives to make the barrels that aged this whisky. The Confederation comes in because the trees were over 150 years old when harvested, meaning they were standing when the Canadian Confederation was created in 1867. The makers claim that the Canadian terroir makes a contribution to the taste.

I thought I had reviewed the standard Forty Creek Barrel Select a while back but it turns out I hadn’t. It’s a decent whisky, but it has an off note (similar to spoiled butter) that grows on me in a bad way. It’s not one I’ve found myself going back to. This whisky is a big improvement, as it should be at $44 more in price.

I did not expect this much grain character in a whisky this expensive but it’s not a bad thing here. Like I said above, it’s like a liquid granola bar. Sweet and grainy with a bit of spice, it’s delicious from beginning to end. If I have any gripes with this whisky, you can already probably guess them, dear readers. They are price and proof. At $65, I should be getting more for my money than in the Barrel Select, especially with NAS. Still, this is delicious and I love it. Forty Creek Confederation Oak is recommended.

Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale Triple-Triple Head to Head: 2013, 2014, 2015

Brewer: Unibroue, Chambly, Quebec, Canada2015-12-21-15.33.33.jpg.jpeg

Style: Spiced dark ale

ABV: 9%

Price: $6

Me= Me

Jessica= J

Brian= B

Served in snifters.

Appearance: Coffee brown with a big, but short-lived head (all).

2013

Me: Orange, ginger and malt on the nose. Light on the palate with a little gingerbread. Mild finish.

J: Smells fruity but doesn’t taste fruity.

B: Nose and palate are very different. Much less flavor on the palate than there is aroma in the nose. Mild. Watery.

2014

Me: Mild nose, mildly effervescent on the palate. Spicy and stronger on the palate than 2013. Booze more obvious. Favorite of the three.

J: Not as spicy. More malty. Palate is more consistent with the nose. Finish lingers in the tongue. Elusive whiff of chocolate.

B: “ooh!” Much better on the palate. Agree with J. Malt is prominent but there’s underlying clove and nutmeg. Favorite of the three.

2015

Me: Stronger on the nose and in the palate but less balanced than 2014. Orange peel and potpourri nose, malty on the palate.

J: Stronger “beer” flavor. Lager-like. Smells younger, a little grassy. Favorite of the three.

B: Spices are barely there, except for some clove and nutmeg at the end. Least subtle of the three. Strong tasting.

Parting words: Every year around this time, I buy at least three bottles of that year’s Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale. I always plan to drink them six months to a year apart but sometimes I forget they’re in my cellar or I get thirsty and drink one early. I forgot about my last 2011 and I drank it at about three years old and I drank my last 2012 shortly after that. I decided to get serious this year and do a three way head to head tasting. Normally I would enlist my wife to help, but she’s pregnant, so I enlisted the help of a beer-loving couple we’re friends with, Brian and Jessica.

We tasted over dinner (all three were OK with food) and I tried to take notes as best as I could. 2013 was the least favorite for all of us. It wasn’t bad, it was just bland on the palate. Jessica preferred the stronger taste of the 2015, but Brian and I liked the 2014. That said, we all agreed that 2014 and 2015 were both enjoyable pours. One remaining question is whether this beer rebounds after an apparent dip after two years in the bottle, like wines sometimes do. Maybe next year we can answer this question! Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale is recommended new and at a year old.

Crown Royal Reserve

Distiller: Crown Royal, Gimili, Manitoba, Canada (Diageo)wpid-2015-09-11-20.50.45.jpg.jpeg

Age: NAS (supposedly older than the standard Crown Royal)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $44

Appearance: Dark copper (likely colored)

Nose: Alcohol, spoiled onion, discount deli ham, ghost pepper.

Palate: Full bodied and mildly sweet. Not much going on other than sweetness and a touch of caramel. No oak anywhere in sight.

Finish: Light anise flavor followed by mild heat.

Mixed: Due to the limited amount I had available of this whisky, I didn’t try Crown Royal Reserve mixed, except for with some soda. It was nearly impossible to taste in that application, but that’s probably for the best.

Parting words: I reviewed the standard Crown Royal a couple years ago and I didn’t like it. I was hoping the reserve would be better. I imagined something more rounded and refined. That is not what I got. Crown Royal Reserve is even worse than Crown Royal. The nose has gone from disgusting to putrid and CR’s grainy character has been replaced with a total lack of any sort of character beyond the garbage (literally) nose. The only pleasant part of drinking this was the delicate, but flavorful finish, but it doesn’t even come close to being worth the silly price.

In the interest of being helpful, here’s a list of “reserve” or equivalent Canadian blends that are cheaper and better than CRR: Black Velvet Reserve ($13), Canadian Club Reserve ($18), Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve ($27), and Gibson’s 12 ($28). Not to mention Alberta Dark Batch ($27), CC Sherry Cask ($22), Collingwood ($30) and Tangle Ridge ($18).

Don’t buy this. Crown Royal Reserve is not recommended.

Wiser’s 18 years old

Maker: Corby, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (Pernod-Ricard)wpid-2015-08-14-16.31.40.jpg.jpeg

Style: Blended Canadian whisky

Age: 18 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $75

Appearance: Shiny orange.

Nose: Potpourri, vanilla, orange sherbet, alcohol.

Palate: Medium sweet. Rock candy, tarragon, vanilla, sarsaparilla.

Finish: Sweet and spicy with a little bit of heat. Thyme, anise, butterscotch, bubblegum.

Parting words: Wiser’s 18 sits atop Corby’s Wiser’s line, which includes the flagship Wiser’s Deluxe, Wiser’s Rye, and Wiser’s Legacy, a mong others. Canadian whisky ages very well (the Canadian climate makes for slower aging than in Kentucky) and so I had high hopes for this.

It is a good whisky. Unlike some other Canadians at double digits, like the 12 y/o Canadian Club or the 21 y/o Collingswood, Wiser’s 18 still has some teeth at its advanced age. There’s plenty of rye spice and vanilla and even some alcohol bite on the palate, even though it’s only 40% ABV. It also comes in an elegant rectangular bottle that looks very sharp on a home bar.

Long time readers may sense a big “but” coming, and here it is: $75 is much too expensive for this. It’s much better than the all-nose Collingswood 21, the only other venerable age-stated Canadian available in Michigan, but even that bottle of disappointment is $15 cheaper. The real kicker is that Wiser’s Legacy is superior in every way. It’s 45% ABV, was $45 the last time it appeared in Michigan, and is all rye whiskey, unlike this blend.

Wiser’s 18 y/o is good, but not good enough to justify being the second most expensive Canadian whisky on the Michigan list. It is mildly recommended.

Alberta Rye Dark Batch

Maker: Alberta Distillers Ltd., Calgary, Alberta, Canada (Beam Suntory)wpid-2015-06-12-20.59.58.jpg.jpeg

Style: Blended Canadian Rye

Age: NAS

ABV: 45%

Michigan State Minimum: $27

Appearance: Dark (not surprisingly), ruddy copper.

Nose: Big, high-toned rye. Lemongrass, tarragon, alcohol, coriander seed, ginger, butterscotch, toffee.

Palate: Full bodied and creamy. Toffee, caramel, coffee grounds. A bit of bite on the back end.

Finish: Big herbaceous finish. Cilantro, curry.

Parting words: This whisky is essentially a rebranding of the Canada-only Albert Rye Dark Horse whisky. Why they thought “batch” would sell better in the US than “horse” is anybody’s guess, especially since horses are all over many high end bourbon labels.

At any rate, it’s a blend of Alberta-distilled rye with high-rye bourbon (Old Grand Dad) and a little sherry. Many palates I respect have been able to taste the bourbon in the mix, but I confess that I cannot. Perhaps some of the butterscotch and toffee flavors are from the OGD, but it seems more likely that they hail from the sherry than the bourbon.

Whatever is coming from wherever, this is a wonderful whisky, one of the best Canadians readily available. It’s a great value at this proof and price. It mixes surprisingly well too, at least in the Manhattan I just finished! Alberta Rye Dark Batch is highly recommended.

Canadian Mist

Maker: Canadian Mist, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada (Brown-Forman)wpid-2015-05-01-17.23.50.jpg.jpeg

Style: Canadian blend.

Age: 3 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $12

Appearance: Bright orange with short legs and necklacing (coloring is allowed in Canadian whisky.

Nose: Boiled corn on the cob, cumin, winter savory, hint of leather, new make.

Palate: Mild. Lavender, alcohol, multi-grain bread.

Finish: grape jelly bean, new make, burn.

Mixed: Performs well in an old fashioned and in ginger ale, although it gets a bit lost. Servicable with club soda.

Parting words: Canadian Mist is a perfectly adequate, entry level Canadian blend, but not much to write home about. It tastes very young, which it is, and doesn’t have much to offer except grain character with faint whispers of mature characteristics like oak and caramel. If you’re looking for something undemanding to sip with soda or in an old fashioned, Canadian Mist fits the bill. Black Velvet fits the bill just as well but is $2 cheaper. I think you know what I’d do in that situation. Canadian Mist is mildly recommended.

Collingwood 21

Maker: Canadian Mist, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada (Brown-Forman)wpid-20150206_163642.jpg

Style: 100% malted rye Canadian whisky finished with toasted maple wood.

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $60

Appearance: Bright orange

Nose: Rich and bright. Dried orange peel, vanilla sugar cookies, cut oak, ground walnut.

Palate: Soft and mild. Grade A maple syrup, faint notes of clementine, maple sugar, oak.

Finish: A little oak and potpourri, then softly fades into a gentle sweetness.

Parting words: The nose on this whisky is truly amazing. It’s complex, elegant and beautiful from beginning to end. Wood is very much present, both maple and oak, but it’s never overbearing. Everything is seamlessly integrated. I could just sit and smell this whisky for hours.

Then there’s the taste and finish. Anticlimactic would be a polite word for it. Neither is bad, but they don’t even come close to matching the promise of the amazing nose. This is yet another Canadian Whisky that is held back from being the world class spirit is should be by being bottled at 40%. At 45% or, God forbid, 50% this would be world class. As it is, it’s a sad reminder of what is holding Canadian whiskies back. No, forget sad, Collingwood 21 makes me angry. The women and men who made this product deserve better than a showing like this.

$60 is too high but, my anger not withstanding, at $50 or lower, Collingwood 21 is recommended.