E-pistle 2007/059 – A Dozen Canadian Drams

By Lawrence Graham, Canada

A Review of a Dozen Canadian Whiskies – The Old and the New

The first thing I had to learn about Canadian Whisky is that it’s not supposed to taste like Scotch Whisky or Irish Whisky or American Whisk(e )y or Japanese Whisky. It’s just supposed to taste like Canadian Whisky which evolved from the rough spirit of the our first pioneers to the famed product of the post World War II years to what it is today, a shadow of it’s former self on the world stage. And almost all Canadian whisky has some rye in the mix and even as a lover of the whiskies of Scotland some of the Canadian whiskies listed below made me sit down and say “Oh my!”. Canadian Whisky can literally be mouth watering. To the uninitiated rye can seem over powering on the nose and palate but like malt it has subtleties and complexities.

In Canada the brand is more important than the distillery and thus you will see whisky from several different distilleries under one or more brand names. And in every Canadian rye whisky you can taste the common heritage if Scotch, Irish or American whiskies. Canadian whiskies are dramatically under priced (or everybody else’s whiskies are dramatically over priced.)  It is not a Canadian practice to use peat or to use ex-wine casks; the majority of casks used are of American origin.

Lot no. 40 NAS (43%, Corby Distillers) Corby Distilleries Limited, Corbyville, Ontario the label proudly states, but no more.
The distillery was established in 1859 and was located within the municipal boundaries of the town of Belleville and has now been demolished . The site is now in the hands for property developers. This should sound familiar; Lochside, Glen Lochy, etc, etc.
Color: Mid strength tea with reddish highlights.
Nose: Clean, some sweet wine notes(?) Very light rye, wood, spicy, very nice. No elbows. Caramel? Marked improvement after a few minutes.
Taste: Reminded me of Tormore 12 which is very Canadian rye whisky in style, white pepper, sharp dry oak
Finish: Sweet, peppery, muted cereal and rye notes, further dry sweet white pepper at the very end.
Score: 79 Points

Alberta Premium 40% NAS Canadian Rye Whisky (Jim Beam Brands World Wide)
The one distillery in Canada that produces a 100% rye whisky and is located well within the city limits of Calgary in the industrial zone.
Color: Dark gold with reddish highlights. Really ugly bottle, no mind.
Nose: Rye, beautiful sweet Rye
Taste: Sweet oily development, rigid rye flavours, some diesel in the back ground and oaky dryness.
Finish: Rye with full sweet notes, first class whisky. Creamy butter and greengage jam.
Score: 91 Points

Royal Velvet 40% NAS 1970 tax strip (Black Velvet Whisky Co-Gilbey Canada) The cousin of Black Velvet also from Gilbey Canada.
Color: Medium gold
Nose: Sweet butter, light rye notes but more wine influence (?)
Taste: Dry with card board and very light oily rye, not over whelming. Well balanced.
Finish: Gentle and sweet. Rye,  butter. Fruit, pineapples, pears more rye.
Score: 87 Points

Alberta Springs 10 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky 40%. Also from Alberta Distillers in Calgary, Alberta.
After blending this whisky is re-casked for further maturation.
Color: Light gold
Nose: Gentle soft but well integrated rye notes, much gentler on the nose than its’ NAS stable mate Alberta Premium.
Taste: Very gentle mouth feel with soft fruit and light rye. Very much a contemplative dram. Oily development. Mouth watering rye. Pineapples
Finish: Very well balanced and medium long with some sweetness looking back.
Score: 90 Points

Schenley OFC (Original Fine Canadian) NAS Canadian Whisky 40% (Schenley Distillers, Valleyfield, Quebec.)
Color: Golden dark honey.
Nose: Very muted rye, spirit and some back ground notes of caramel vanilla sweetness. Slight oiliness in the background.
Hints of great things ahead.
Taste: Clean rye, slight prickle in the mouth feel, sweet melon, dusty warehouses, cereal and wood notes. Toffee.
Finish: Warming and long with wave after wave of rye, very well integrated, good balance. Absolutely delicious.
Score: 90 Points

Centennial 10 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky 40% (Highwood Distillers)
Color: Light gold/copper.
Nose: Fruit cake, vanilla bean, background subtle hint of rye (or is it my imagination?)
Taste: Gentle rye but very focused, little else happening, some glace fruit.
Finish: More rye and toffee. Not overly long. A gentle whisky but chewy.
Score: 82 Points

Park Lane 15 Year Old Canadian Whisky (Corby Distillers-NO ABV Stated) 1952 tax strip.
Another fine whisky from Corbyville Distillery in Ontario.
Color: Deep gold with brown highlights.
Nose: Full on rye, sweetness, some brown sugar .
Taste: Very ’rounded’ with a full mouth feel, huge mouth development of the clean rye. Quite dry, no bitterness but mouth watering rye and wood.
Finish: Long and warming with some later stages of wood notes resulting in a final dryness. Brilliant. After a few minutes the waves of rye are still reappearing in wave after wave along with sweetness. Thanks to Chris Raby for this one.
Score: 89 Points

Wiser’s 18 Very Old Canadian Whisky 40% (JP Wiser’s Distillery, Belleville, Ontario)
Color: Reddish gold, quite dark.
Nose: Quite mellow, subtle, rye, resin.
Taste: Again quite mellow with rye, tobacco, some oily/diesel notes but muted. Syrupy.
Finish: Gentle warming rye and tobacco, medium long, slight bitter at very last then, pop! Just a bit more rye.
Score: 86 Points

Wiser’s 18 Year Old Oldest Blended Canadian Whisky (JP Wiser’s Distillery, Belleville, Ontario- NO ABV stated) 1955 tax strip- distilled 1937. I was offered this bottle after a radio interview on whisky by a lady for the princely sum of C$50. I wish I could have bought a case. It was so excellent I drank the whole bottle myself and refused to share.
Color: Dark gold.
Nose: Rye, pepper, a very small hint of smoke(?).
Taste: Rye, sweet, stunning and the heaviest oily taste from the loads of rye in the mash bill. This is the biggest mouth feel of any whisky that I ever tasted.  Amazing, oh what has been lost. If all Canadian whisky was of this quality today….
Finish: Long, oily with a hint of heavy oily.
Score: 95 points

Gibson’s 18 Year Old Finest Rare Canadian Whisky 40% (William Grant & Sons (Canadian Whisky Ltd).
Color: Light copper.
Nose: Fresh oak shavings, rye and a warming oily sweetness.
Taste: Cedar, rye, some rounded sweet notes, varnish and marzipan, winey. A bit of a violin makers shop here.
Finish: Long, wave after wave of perfect oily rye. Brilliant stuff. Goes on forever. Chewy, can’t stop chewing on the finish. Mouth watering.
Score: 90 Points

Century Reserve 21 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky 40% (Century Distilling Co., Kelowna, British Columbia). Bottle AC859 Nick Bennett, Master Blender.
Color: Medium gold with reddish highlights.
Nose: Gentle rye, sweet and clean, slight alcohol hovering in the back ground.
Taste: some hints of wheat (?), rye, sugar and wood. Diesel and more wood notes
Finish: Warming, blasts of rye and dry wood notes, slightly oily with hints of diesel in the back ground, very pleasant.
Score: 82 points.

Alberta Premium 25 Year Old 40% Canadian Rye Whisky (Jim Beam Brands World Wide). Despite the age this whisky sold for C$30 to C$35, a bargain at either price despite the ugly bottle (but it has a tube this time). The oldest Canadian whisky available and is actually 27 years old when bottled.
Color: Medium gold.
Nose: Rye, marmalade and sawdust, oak.
Taste: Stunningly gentle mouth feel with clean cut rye, burnt cake, tea.
Finish: Long, warming with waves of tobacco, rye and oak. Brilliant.
Score: 94 Points

I deliberately picked these whiskies since they are not commonly seen over seas, the more common being Crown Royal, Canadian Club etc. The ones I show cased are much, much better.