Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Doctor is In: A review of Wiser's Dissertation

Not a doctor I'd trust

Higher education is a wonderful thing. With post-secondary and graduate studies becoming more accessible, human knowledge is advancing at an exponential rate. For all the negative effects of globalization (which I will not prattle on about here), there have been positive effects as well. Experts can come from anywhere on the planet, they can be any gender, sexual orientation etc. Scientists, for example, need not conform to the Eastern European milquetoast archetype; they can be as diverse as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jane Goodall, Chen Ning Yang, or Yoichiro Nambu.   And with rigorous competition in most fields, there are fewer fraudsters who can fleece the innocent, à la Dr. Nick Riviera (HI everyBODY !!!!). Now there are still hucksters out there but the scientific community is global and pretty good at sniffing out the fakes. When I read that Don Livermore, Master Distiller at J.P. Wiser's had a Ph.D. in Distilling, I had to investigate further. I had always thought of Wiser's as a mixing whisky and hadn't given their premium offerings a second glance. What I found changed the way I think about Canadian Whisky.


Meet the doctor


He knows more about whisky than you
Don Livermore was born in Fordwich, Ontario, a small town just north of Waterloo. He earned his Bsc in microbiology from the University of Waterloo and earned his M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. Yes, THAT Edinburgh. So Dr Don earned his Ph.D. in Distilling from a Scottish University. Let that sink in for a minute. I believe the kids call this "street cred". Livermore has pioneered analytic techniques in the industry through the use of infrared sensors. His technique measures and quantifies the wood extracts left in a barrel. This allows him to calculate how 3, 6 or even 12 years in a barrel will affect a whisky. He states in an interview (here) that 60 days of aging in virgin oak casks will impart more vanilla, caramel and toffee notes than 18 years in first-fill bourbon casks (the industry standard for single malt scotch). Livermore has even authored a chapter in The Alcohol Textbook, 4th edition, which is apparently an industry standard reference book for scientists and engineers. While I will likely never read this book, I'm thankful that people who produce my liquor of choice take it seriously enough to warrant not only a textbook, but four editions of said textbook. Most impressive.


What is Dissertation?


Wiser's Dissertation Canadian Whisky
Yes, that's my paw holding MY bottle
Before I get into tasting notes, I should point out that Dissertation has won World’s Best Blended Limited Release at the World Whiskies Awards, and a Gold Medal at the 2017 Canadian Whisky Awards. So while our opinions and tastes are highly personal, some serious experts have concluded (like me) that this is a damn fine whisky while doing blind taste tests. Heady praise indeed. According to the Toronto Whisky Society (article here) Dissertation is:
  • Approximately 12 years old (all barrels from 2004/2005), but non-age-stated. I've been opposed to NAS whiskies for reasons unrelated to taste and flavour, but rather relating to the way they are marketed. However, I'm becoming a BIT more open-minded where NAS whisky is concerned. Yet more information is always a good thing.
  • A blend of 60 barrels, all virgin oak using #2 (88%) or #4 (12%) char.
  • The blend is 87% rye, mostly column & pot-distilled (distilled to ~80%) plus some column distilled Rye (distilled to ~70%). The rest is double column distilled corn (distilled to ~94%).
  • 46.1% ABV: the science fiends among you may recognize 46.1 as the atomic weight of an ethyl alcohol molecule. I did not recognize this; I read it somewhere and verified it. Seems legit.
  • Non-chill-filtered: I have written about this before and I'm very pleased to see this.
  • No colour added: I've argued that E150A (a.k.a caramel colouring or spirit caramel) is NEVER necessary,  but the use of virgin oak imparts so much colour that even marketing people are ok with leaving it alone.
  • Limited Release: only 60 barrels were used for this LCBO-exclusive release, BUT there are another 54 barrels from Don’s PhD left in the warehouse! Whether they get released as a “Dissertation 2.0” or used in other blends is unknown at this point.

Another difference between the Canadian and American approach to whisky-making:

  • When making bourbon (U.S.) the mash bill (grain mixture) is determined and then the grains are cooked, fermented, distilled and aged together.
  • When making Canadian Whisky, the grains are cooked, fermented, distilled and aged separately and blended during the finishing stages. This allows the blenders to create specific flavour profiles.

This isn't a hard and fast rule for Canadian whisky, but it is the standard procedure.


Tasting notes


Nose (undiluted): very rye forward, toasted oak, maple sugar, some baking spices, mint in the background

Palate (undiluted): surprisingly smooth arrival, medium bodied, rye spice, vanilla, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, red apples

Finish: medium length, more rye spice, vanilla, some charred oakiness lingering


Adding water to Dissertation allowed the spices, particularly cloves, to come through a bit more, but the rye and oak were still quite present. In addition to the toasted oak, water brings a freshly-cut oak note to the nose. The rye is very pronounced in this whisky and that's a great thing. If you associate rye flavour with inexpensive mixer whiskies (e.g. Wiser's Special Blend, Canadian Club), Dissertation can show you just how good rye whisky can be.


Conclusion


Is this our National confidence level?
Canada regularly produces greatness, yet Canadians are reluctant to boast. Sure, if it's hockey-related, we proudly rhyme off names like Orr, Lemieux, Gretzky, Yzerman, Roy, Crosby, or McDavid as proof of our nation's ability to be among the best in the world. Perhaps we simply like to appear humble. Perhaps we worry too much what other nations think of us: we feel like we're Milhouse and the U.S.A. is Bart Simpson. When it comes to whisky, Canada is producing some of the finest spirits anywhere. It isn't scotch, it isn't bourbon; it is uniquely Canadian. We've been producing a lot of whisky for a very long time, and we're pretty good at it. Wiser's Dissertation proves that imaginative Canadians like Don Livermore can combine art and science in a way that should make us proud. I can't recommend Dissertation highly enough. If you can find a bottle, buy it. You won't regret it.


Rating: 4/5 moustaches




Cheers, eh !

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