Wednesday, 14 June 2017

My kingdom for a horse ! A review of Alberta Premium Dark Horse.

Canada's international reputation for good whisky is equal to its reputation for good rap. Exhibit A: "Rock'em Sock'em Techno" by Don Cherry.

You can see why Canadian rap (and Canadian whisky) is often the butt of jokes. Yet Canada is too polite to resort to insults and Canadians tend to grin and bear it. People praise Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, Bourbon whiskey, Tennessee whiskey and even Japanese whisky, but tell someone "This is the best Canadian whisky I've ever had" and they're apt to ask "yeah, but is it any good?" and guffaw loudly at their own aweless jape. But is this reputation for awful imitation warranted ? Is Canadian whisky good for anything other than mixing with Ginger Ale or Coke? Since Christmas 2016, I've tried my best to broaden my whisky horizons by trying more Canadian whiskies.

A very brief history of Canadian whisky

In his excellent book "The World Atlas Of Whisky", Dave Broom (with the help of Davin de Kergommeaux) describes Canada as "the whisky world's sleeping giant." In fact, up until very recently, Canada was the second largest whisky producer in the world (after Scotland). But various tax policies, by political parties of all stripes, have taken their toll on the Canadian distilling industry. Most Canadian whiskies are blends which contain a large percentage of corn spirit, and are typically lighter and smoother than other whisky styles. When Canadian distillers began adding small amounts of rye grain to their mash bills, people began referring to it simply as "rye". Today the terms "rye", "rye whisky" and "Canadian whisky" are used interchangeably here in the Great White North. Those terms all refer to the same product, which, incidentally, is usually made with only a small amount of rye grain. Canada's Food and Drugs Act require that whisky labeled as "Canadian Whisky", "Canadian Rye Whisky" or "Rye Whisky" be mashed, distilled and aged at least three years in Canada in wood barrels not exceeding 700 L capacity. During Prohibition in the United States, the Canadian whisky business was booming. Distilleries like the Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor, Ontario were a frequent stop for bootleggers.

A Dark Horse enters the race

Alberta Premium Dark Horse Canadian Whisky
Is this what Katy Perry was singing aboot ?
So what is this stuff? Alberta Premium is known in Canada for their high rye content. In fact, the "stock" Alberta Premium is made from 100% rye. Spicy stuff. It is also available exclusively in Canada. The Dark Horse, however, was available in the United States under the name "Dark Batch" for awhile, though I'm unsure if it still is. Dark Horse is a unique whisky. While some whiskies (and rums) are aged in ex-sherry casks for added fruity sweetness, Dark Horse has sherry added direclty into the mix. What? Heresy!!! Anathema ! Abomination ! Alright, let's calm down a bit. Why would Alberta Premium do this? Why to save money, of course ! What do you think happens when a single malt scotch is aged in ex-sherry casks? The sherry that had infused the wood is "re-released" into the whisky. The folks at Alberta Premium are saving you some money (and saving themselves some time). So it's just 99% rye and 1 % sherry? Well, not exactly. According to, Dark Horse is a  "mingling of 12-year-old rye whisky and 6-year-old small pot rye, it has an 8% dollop of well-aged corn whisky added to flesh out the body. The whisky is aged in heavily charred American white oak barrels, and is bottled at 45% alc/vol." Dark Horse also contains 0.5%-1.0% sherry wine by volume. Rumour has it that the 8% corn whiskey is in fact Old Grand-Dad's Bourbon.

Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): brown sugar, vanilla, toffee, raisins, rye, herbal notes
Palate (undiluted): a very bourbon-like arrival of vanilla and toffee, developing to brown sugar, maple, peppery rye, dark fruits (dates? dark cherries?)
Finish:  medium finish, rye spiciness, developing to an almost Dr. Pepper/Cherry-Coke flavour (in the most pleasant way)  

Adding water did NOT improve this whisky at all. In fact, with water most of the subtlety was lost and Dark Horse simply tasted like watered-down rye. I do NOT recommend drinking this with water. Others, including the venerable Mr. Broom, disagree. In his book, Mr. Broom gets more cherry-type fruitiness by adding water to Dark Horse. Perhaps our palates are different, or maybe mine is simply not as developed as Mr. Broom's. Probably the latter. Dark Horse does very well neat, or perhaps in a rye and coke. I'm just guessing about the latter since I don't drink rye and coke, but Dark Horse's finish leads me to believe it would work.


Don't let bad jokes and ridicule sway you from trying Canadian whiskies. There are some very good ones out there (or should that be "oot there"?) and they are priced very competitively. I think I payed $30 for my bottle of Dark Horse. It's better than any bourbon at that price and can compete with most budget blended scotches, especially for those who don't like smoke or peat. Definitely a winner.

Rating: 3/5 moustaches

Cheers, eh !

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