Category Archives: Canadian Whisky

Lot No. 40 Rye Whisky

There are many Canadian whiskies that I hold in high regard and, at any time, you’d be likely to find at least 3-4 different bottles in my cupboard. At present, I have the following Canadians available:

  • Wisers Delux – a mixer for any rye-and-coke drinking buddies that might pop over 
  • Forty Creek Barrel Select – a mid-shelf offering that I can unpretentiously share neat alongside highball sippers
  • Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye – a premium bottle that’s for me and anyone else I figure is capable of appreciating its splendour
  • Alberta Premium 30 yr Old – the still unopened pride and joy of my Canadian collection… For now I just use it to show off!

What I have recently realized, however, is that my lineup of Canadian whisky has not seen much turnover for quite some time. It seems that my love of scotch and growing affection for bourbon has been keeping me from branching out and trying different Canadian whiskies. Well, no longer!

Lot No. 40 is a premium Canadian whisky distilled by Corby. It is a 100% rye whisky! distilled from a mixture of rye and malted rye. You can read all kinds of history about the brand, how it was started by Hiram Walker in the 90’s, flopped and was discontinued for many years… But I’ll leave that for you to Google and I’ll just tell you what I think of this dram. 

Lot No. 40 is bottled at 43% abv and cost me a little over $40 CDN. 

To The Eye

Beautiful, deep gold – in some ways, it actually looks more like a scotch than a typical Canadian rye! Thick, stubborn legs cling to my Canadian Glencairn after the usual swirl. 

In the Nose

Wow! This is rye whisky!  There is a beautiful dusty, dry rye sensation that is accompanied by a sourdough rye bread note, but it quickly moves aside for a fruity, floral aroma. There are oak notes, dark syrupy and molasses notes and lots of grainy and herbaceous notes… I get some dill and some caraway seed! But then that floral, perfume-like quality makes a return. There is a lot going on in this glass and I find myself delighted by the bouncing back and forth between the typical rye aromas and those of something entirely more sophisticated and complex!

On the Tongue. 

This dram is thick and rich on the tongue, carrying as many flavours as the nose suggested. Toasty cereals, plums, and a sweet citrus note that reminds me of mandarin oranges. There is a funky, mineal sort of character that adds a lot of interest to this dram, as well as oak tannins, vanilla and a touch of a dry, grassy herbal note. The entire experience is held together by a familiar rye spiciness. 

The finish is extremely long and full of another burst of flavours, including malt, lime zest, tobacco, milk chocolate and that floral, honeyed sweetness. The finish leaves me contemplating whether it’s more mini wheats or wine gums… It’s incredible!

Final Thoughts

How much more would you like me to gush about this whisky? In my opinion, this is the rye against which all other ryes should be measured! At the current price, this dram may be the pound-for-pound champion and another example of the quality to be found in Canadian rye… Go out and buy a bottle right now!

Forty Creek Barrel Select

Do you remember, several years back, when John Hall burst onto the Canadian whisky scene with his Forty Creek products? Obviously, the lengthy aging period required to produce whisky means that brand new distilleries don’t pop up every day, so I remember some anticipation to find out what this new whisky, produced by a former winemaker, would be like. 

Distilled in Grimsby, Ontario, Forty Creek’s “gimmick” is/was the use of a meritage – 3 different grains (rye, corn and barley) are distilled and aged separately and eventually blended  for finishing. I’m not sure if this process remains in use for all of of Forty Creek’s whiskies but it was a technique that set it apart early on. Forty Creek also differs from most other Canadian whisky makers in its use of copper pot stills, rather than stainless steel column stills.

This review is for the flagship Barrel Select, which is bottled at 40% abv and costs about $25 here in Alberta. 


To the Eye

Copper with flashes of bright gold. There is something a rather beguiling about the look of this whisky for me. The clear, bright orangey-copper tones are extremely attractive… It looks a little more like bourbon than the usual Canadian offerings. 

In the Nose

The nose on this one is mild but with healthy doses of vanilla and caramel so, again, something rather bourbon-like about it. With time, biscuits and a malty sweetness emerge, along with a sweet-sour fruity characteristic that reminders me of underripe mango or stone fruits. I get very little rye spiciness on the nose of this whisky. 

On the Tongue

Exceedingly smooth… Dangerously so! Kettle corn at first, which gives way to that classic Canadian rye spiciness and am I ever glad the rye chooses this moment to assert itself. It’s not the usual dustiness I often equate with rye. Instead, it’s all of the earthy, fruity, spicy goodness I want from a rye but somewhat elevated through the sweet corn delivery. There is more body than most high-rye whiskies and I really like the full, rounded mouthfeel. Peppercorns, an almost heather-like perfume quality and a slight nuttiness. In case you can’t tell, I find this whisky to be delicious!

The finish is medium, with caramel making a return, along with oak and a mild walnut-like bitterness. 

Final Thoughts

There is far more going on with this dram than a $25-bottle deserves and more than is usually found on the lowest rung of a core range! This is terrific whisky and a mainstay in my cupboard. It’s interesting and complex enough for serious sippers but also inexpensive enough that there are no hard feelings when one of my buddies inevitably add cola or ginger ale. Forty Creek is a tremendous example of the quality available in the Canadian whisky scene.  

A Wee Dram…. Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve

By now, most whisky drinkers – especially Canadian ones – know the story of master distiller, John K. Hall and his Forty Creek whiskies. There is usually a bottle of the flagship Barrel Select in my cupboard, since it can do double duty as a suitable sipper for me and as a tip-notch mixer for my buddies. This sample of the Double Barrel Reserve, which is a step or two up in the core range, came with my most recent bottle of the standard offering, so it seems like the perfect opportunity for a quick Wee Dram!


This golden yellow drop has a subtle nose, mostly dominated by vanilla, with a hint of butterscotch and a touch of nuttiness. Wow! On the palate, this is the most toffee-like drop I have ever tasted… it’s unmistakeable and kind of surprising, actually! Toffee eventually gives way to creamy Werther’s Original candies (Which doesn’t sound much different, I know, but the change of flavour is distinct!) with a bit of oakiness and rye spice riding shotgun. The finish is long and delicious, with vanilla, lemon zest and oatmeal cookies.

Delicious whisky, this one! I’ve always thought Forty Creek had a little more of a bourbon-like character than most Canadian whiskies and this Double Barrel Reserve is even more reminiscent of a fine bourbon. I love it… and I should probably go buy a full sized bottle for a proper review!

A Wee Dram… Alberta Premium Dark Horse

A while back, shortly after Alberta Premium Dark Horse was released, I went through a phase of really enjoying this whisky and, probably for a year or so, I usually had a bottle of it around. I guess I found other drams that won the competition for my attention but, on another visit with my Pops, I wasn’t too surprised that he busted out a brand new bottle of Dark Horse… It checks off all of his priorities: Canadian whisky, check! Alberta distillery, even better! High rye profile, perfect!

Needless to say, I was thrilled to share a drop and find out if Dark Horse was still as good as I remembered. 

An extremely rich coloured, deep copper dram, I kept thinking how much bourbon-like character to this whisky. The appearance reminds me of Four Roses Single Barrel. The nose oozes with caramel corn and vanilla and, as far as actually drinking it, it’s the thick, heavy mouthfeel that reminds me of some of the better corn whiskeys I’ve enjoyed. In terms of flavour, there’s quite a lot going on – burnt sugar and toasted oak, a herbal, menthol flavour and some nice rye spicy-sourness near the end. In the finish, I also found a distinct sherry theme. 

By now I think most people who care about whisky have heard that Alberta Distillers went way outside the box to construct their Dark Horse. Yeah, it’s made with an unconventional mixture of approximately 91% rye whisky, 8% corn whisky (bourbon-style, they say) and 1% sherry… But who cares? ABD are completely up front about how they make this whisky, it’s made within the rules that have been set for Canadian whisky and, most importantly it’s a delicious sipper. Grab a bottle… Alberta Premium Dark Horse has interesting flavours and qualities that are rarely found in Canadian drams. 

A Wee Dram… Tangle Ridge Canadian Whisky

Trying something different here.

Grad studies, kids’ activities, everyday responsibilities of teaching and school administration at this time of year – they all seem to be conspiring against my blog. It’s been damned near two months since I did a review and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do a little better.

Enter A Wee Dram… I’m going to try writing brief entries for some those whiskies I get to try but can’t put through a full review process. After all, it’s not like the only time I enjoy a dram is when I sit down to carefully jot down tasting notes three separate times en route to a new review post. 

There might not be pictures, there won’t be a ton of depth to my comments,  but I hope it’s still worthwhile!

Tangle Ridge Canadian Whisky

Stopped out at my parent’s farm for a visit on World Whisky Day 2016 and, of course, Dad asked if I was up for a drop… Silly question! Ever the champion of Canadian whisky, especially those produced right here in Alberta, so I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see him produce Tangle Ridge from his cupboard. 

Not my pic; borrowed from http://www.thelonebiker.com
It had been a while since I last tasted this whisky. Much deeper copper colour than I expect from Canadian whisky – it says this is a 10 year old dram, but still! A little overly sweet, maybe, with loads of caramel and vanillins in this one… Extremely smooth exit!

Not quite my preferred profile these days, but Tangle Ridge is still a decent enough sipper on a cold, rainy day while shooting the shit with the Old Man! (I did accept a second glass. 😉)

Cheers!

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Whisky

Once upon a time, a bottle of Crown Royal was a go-to gift to take over to a buddy’s place for rye and cokes on a birthday, or some other more-special-than-usual occasion. That’s what “Crown” meant to me back in the day… a mostly unspectacular whisky mixer that still managed to carry enough recognizable caché to justify a price nearly double that of the mixers I’d usually choose. 

… that was before I really discovered whisky, however.

Once scotch whiskies drew me out on a dramming journey that eventually came back around to the whiskies of my own continent, my opinion of Crown Royal did change slightly, even if my appreciation of it was still lacking. See, it’s damned near impossible to truly dislike Crown Royal. It’s smooth and carries a decent flavour profile and, as I eventually discovered it wasn’t half bad on the rocks or even neat, in a pinch. But, whereas I once found it too expensive to replace my usual buzz-inducing mixers, I now feel like I can find more interesting and complex whiskies for the same price (or a little less). Whether it’s the CR Black, maple or apple flavoured offerings or some of the ultra-premium/ultra-pricey releases, some are good and a couple are very good, but I’ve just never quite found enough value in what Crown Royal has offered. 

But, with this week’s announcement that a 90% rye-grain expression from Crown Royal had been named the World’s #1 Whisky by Jim Murray, that prodigious guru of all things whisky, well I figured it’s time that I gave it another chance. I mean, when the first ever Canadian Whisky to rank tops in The Whisky Bible also receives Jim Murray’s highest-ever score (97.5/100), a Canadian whisky blogger should feel obligated to review it, right?!

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is bottled at 45% abv, and cost me just south of $40 CDN. 
 
To the Eye

This rye-forward Canadian whisky certainly looks the part – golden honey/straw. A swirl of my glencairn produces a thick oily coating that eventually releases moderate, extremely stubborn legs. 

In the Nose

The first sniff, after letting my dram breath a bit, is full of sweet fruits, and sour taffy candy. The next reveals the dusty rye that I was expecting, along with some clove and a hint of toasted marshmallow. The aroma is not not as spicy as I expect a rye whisky to be, and an unmistakable herbal-floral note lingers in the breezes, which reminds me more of a heathery scotch than a prairie rye. It’s definitely interesting. 

On the Tongue

Pow! There’s that spicy, punchy rye! White pepper and baking spices flood my mouth, along with a citrus zest that never really gets pithy. Dry, grainy rye is nicely balanced with some cocoa and a hint of that floral character revealed in the aroma. Creamy toffee. The finish is surprisingly long, with the cocoa softening to milk chocolate along with lingering Honeycomb cereal and rose petals(?), it’s still clean and crisp at the same time. 

Final Thoughts

After sampling this whisky, I remain a little perplexed. I really like it but is it the best whisky I’ve had this year? No, I don’t think so… it’s not even the best Canadian whisky I’ve had this year. (Here’s to you Ninety 20 Yr Old and Gibsons  Finest Rare 18 Yr Old)

However, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is an incredibly unique and interesting dram. Both the nose and the palate reveal nuances that I don’t normally associate with rye/Canadian whiskies. This is unquestionably a very good drop that will be appreciated by many. At the very least, I think I’ve finally found a Crown Royal that I will happily buy again!

Just a Thought… World’s Best, Eh?

“To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice.” Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible 2016

So this is Jim Murray’s 2016 World Whisky of the year… Kinda makes me proud to be Canadian! 

(A Blue Jay wins the American League MVP and now this, it has been quite a week for us!)  

I have long expressed my love for whiskies produced in the True North, Strong and Free, as well as my opinion that our best can hold their own against offerings from anywhere else. Nevertheless, it certainly is nice to see our whiskies getting a little love today, especially the rye-forward style Canadian drams are known for. Upon reading that Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye had been given top marks in the latest Whisky Bible, I set out get my hands on a bottle. In my fourth stop, I found what I was looking for, too. 

Traditionally, I have not been a huge Crown Royal fan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty hard to genuinely dislike “Crown”; it’s worldwide popularity is no coincidence! For me personally, however, I have never really found enough value in Crown Royal – I know of less expensive whiskies for mixing and I prefer several other examples of Canadian whisky for sipping neat. (Visit some of my older postings for reviews of some really excellent Canadian drops, from 100% rye whiskies to 20 & 30 year expressions that cost about the same as a regular bottle of Crown Royal.)

In recent years, a wide variety of new expressions have been released by the Gimli, Manitoba distillery. From a “black” expression to maple and even apple flavoured versions, it seems that there has been an effort to develop a Crown Royal for every palate. I have not yet found mine but, with the new revelation of Northern Harvest Rye being crowned (Dammit, I couldn’t help myself!) the world champ for 2016, perhaps this will be the one.

Here’s what Jim Murray has to say about this whisky:

  

This year, doubtless there will be many more eyebrows raised because rarely is Canada mentioned when it comes  to the world’s top whiskies. But, again, I have no doubt people finding the bottling I tasted will be blown away with this whisky’s uncompromising and unique beauty. It certainly puts the rye into Canadian rye.

 Well, we shall see soon enough I suppose! I have my bottle and am excited to conduct my own review to find out whether I can agree with Mr. Murray on this one.