Wednesday, 22 November 2017

If You Build It, Part Deux: Canadian Whisky

In the first installment of this series, I examined how one might build a collection of scotch whiskies. The overwhelming majority of those whiskies were intended for drinking, not investing, but I can't prevent anyone from buying stuff just to look at it. The second installment, Canadian whisky, will not really feature many collectibles since Canadian whisky doesn't have the clout to attract serious investors, for better or worse. I feel it's good for Canadian whisky enthusiasts. Canadian whisky is a broad category and there are a lot of different flavour profiles to be discovered. Rather than stick to the beginner, intermediate, advanced and elite classification, I'll play right into the stereotype and use a more Canadian frame of reference: hockey. Note that Canadian whisky and Canadian rye whisky are interchangeable. There is no legal requirement for Canadian rye whisky to contain any actual rye. Call it an oddity of Canadian law. A quirky pairing if you will. Like Don Cherry and Ron MacLean.
As always, if you find my disquisitions tiresome, the TL;DR version is at the end. You should also note that when evaluating Canadian whisky, much like evaluating hockey players, price and quality are not always related.


These whiskies are mainly mixers. They aren't created to be sipped neat (though some can be) in a Glencairn whilst you smoke your pipe and listen to Vivaldi. Much like grinders are on a hockey team to mix it up, to go into the corners and other tough areas like the front of the net, grinder whiskies (or mixers if you prefer) are there for mixing and cocktail making. The standby mixers in my neck of the woods are J.P. Wiser's Deluxe and Canadian Club.
What you probably think Canadian whisky looks like
These whiskies aren't afraid of a long session with Ginger Ale, Cola or even in a Manhattan if need be. Don't be afraid to branch out, though. Alberta Premium makes a wallet-friendly mixer that is 100% rye whisky, making it ideal if your drink of choice is the Don Draper-approved Old Fashioned.Gibson's Finest Bold 8 Year Old is bottled at 45% ABV, so it's got a bit more bite than your standard mixer. It's a grinder that isn't afraid to drop the mitts if need be. The whiskies in this category are much like Chris Neil; they may not be your favourite, but they bring a lot to the table and you'd rather have them in your cabinet (or on your team) than go without them.

Two-way Players

These whiskies can do double-duty. They offer an upgrade in a cocktail, but work well on their own too. They aren't necessarily superstars, but they're not total pheasants either. Think of whiskies like Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve (very much like a whisky-infused Werther's Caramel) and Alberta Premium Dark Horse (with its mix of spicy rye notes and sweet sherry notes) as the Guy Carbonneau or Michael Peca of whisky. A whisky like Alberta Springs 10 Year Old, with its toffee sweetness and gingery-peppery spiciness, can serve in several roles, even though many don't see it as a star in its own right. Your opinion may vary. Some two-way players (and two-way whiskies) may be more valuable than others, like Marion Gaborik or Anze Kopitar, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye (with its ample oak, oranges and spices profile) or Pike Creek 10 Year Old Rum Finish.
Number 99 is the greatest offensive player to ever lace up the skates. Gretzky's 92 goals in one season will never be surpassed. Nor will any surpass his 215 points in one season. Yet his Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Red Cask whisky is less Gretzky and more Mike Krushelnyski. Red Cask is more of a versatile workhorse dram with notes of caramel, spices and red grapes.  Like building a fantasy hockey team, building your Canadian whisky cabinet will require some tough decisions.

Top Liners

These are the top six forwards and top defense pairing on any hockey team. Though they're not necessarily mega-superstars, they'd be welcome on almost any team. Think of players like Ryan Getzlaf, Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux and Marc-AndrĂ© Vlasic. Excellent players, but not ones known immediately by their numbers, like 87, 66 or 99. So what's a top-line whisky? Lot no.40 Rye comes to mind, with its lovely cinnamon, nutmeg, oak and apple profile. Stalk & Barrel Rye sticks out from the crowd too. J.P Wiser's Legacy, discontinued though still available as of this writing, is a top-liner in my books. Gooderham & Worts Four Grain is wonderfully complex, with fruit and floral notes balancing out the oakiness, as are some of the higher-end offerings from Forty Creek, such as the Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve. J.P. Wiser's 18 Year Old, with its complex flavours of vanilla, butterscotch, light citrus fruit and oak spices deserves a spot on the top line, though it doesn't always get the respect it deserves.
It's the Blake Wheeler of the Canadian whisky world. Or the Tyson Barrie of the Canadian whisky world, if you favour defensemen. On the flipside, Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old, with its balance of buttery sweet and spicy flavours, is a perennial favourite of the Canadian whisky crowd. It may not be THE greatest in the world, but you'd love to have this player on your team. It's the Patrice Bergeron or the Jonathan Toews of Canadian whisky.

Superstars and Game-Breakers

You know who these players are. Wayne Gretzky. Bobby Orr. Mario Lemieux. Sidney Crosby. Guy Lafleur. Steve Yzerman. Connor McDavid. These are the players (and corresponding whiskies) you dream of acquiring. These are the Canadian whiskies that can convince all but the most stubborn that Canadian whisky can be great. Not "pretty good, for Canadian whisky". No, these whiskies, even if tasted blind, would make anyone go "WOW" !!! The downside is that, like the Great One, Super Mario or Sid the Kid, they may be hard to come by. Alberta Premium 30 Year Old or even Alberta Premium 25 Year Old are, to my mind, the Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr of Canadian whisky. We may never see their equal again. They are limited edition and there are few out there to be had. J.P. Wiser's Dissertation may be headed for that type of legendary status, though only time will tell. It may well be the Connor McDavid of Canadian whisky.
If Dissertation played hockey, this is how it would play
Anyone who has seen McDavid (or tasted Dissertation) can't help but be impressed, though it's too soon to declare either "the greatest" just yet. Mixing it up and keeping things interesting is WhistlePig 10 Year Old Straight Rye. Wait, isn't WhistlePig an American whisk(e)y? Not really. Much like super-sniper Brett Hull, WhistlePig Rye was born in Canada, but grew up in the U.S.A. So I consider WhistlePig a Canadian Rye Whisky. It is, after all, the product of the renowned Alberta Distillers (makers of Alberta Premium, Dark Horse and Alberta Springs). The aging of WhistlePig, however, gives it a much more bourbon-like profile, with lots of vanilla and toffee. Great stuff. No talk of superstars would be complete without the overall greatness of the 1976-1977 MontrĂ©al Canadiens; arguably the greatest NHL team of all time.They set an NHL record for most points in a season by a team with 132 points.They outscored opponents by 216 goals in 80 games. They finished the season with 60 wins, 8 losses and 12 ties. They won the Stanley Cup that year (obviously). So what is the Canadian whisky equivalent of the 1976-1977 Habs? Why Corby's Northern Border Collection Rare Releases of course. What are these whiskies and why should you seek them out? (I only have 2 of them, btw) Here, from the guru of Canadian whisky himself (that's Davin de Kergommeaux in case you didn't know) are the descriptions (from The links lead to M. de Kergommeaux's brilliant reviews. I encourage you to read them. He's much more knowledgeable than I.

  • Lot No. 40 Cask Strength is a 12 year old, 100% rye whisky right from the cask. It sits at 55.0% abv, which emphasizes the spicy rye notes and complementing new white oak. 750ml bottle priced at $69.95.
  • Gooderham & Worts Little Trinity is a 17 year old whisky which is a blend of three grains – corn, rye, and wheat. A nice sipping whisky where each grain will linger across the palate delivering a pleasant finish. This whisky celebrates the story of Little Trinity Church, a church that William Gooderham established in 1842 for his mill and distillery employees who couldn’t afford the high pew fees in the area. 750ml bottle priced at $79.95
  • Pike Creek 21 Year Old is a unique offering in the Canadian whisky category where it is finished in a Speyside Malt cask. This rare release demonstrates how whiskies from Scotland and Canada can complement one another to give a smooth and round sipping whisky. 750ml bottle priced at $89.95.
  • J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old is one of the oldest Canadian Whiskies ever produced. It represents a traditional blended rye whisky that has experienced the harsh Canadian winters and warm summers over 35 years in our ageing warehouse.” 750ml bottle priced at $164.95.
The Northern Border Collection of hockey

Free Agents

Here are some other beauties you may be able to get your hands on. Some you may dream of finding on your team, like the possible return of Ilya Kovalchuk to North American shores. Others, like John Tavares, might be available sooner rather than later for the right price. These are whiskies such as Canadian Club 40 Year Old. As far as I know, this is the oldest Canadian whisky ever sold. I've never tasted it, but according to the aforementioned M. de Kergommeaux:

The Canadian Club trademark dark fruits announce an elegant, beautifully balanced whisky with tremendous complexity and breadth of flavour. Hints of butter tarts, gentle cloves, nutmeg and other baking spices, and ripe purple plums are interlaced with the warming glow of real black pepper. After 40 years in barrels, the most refined oaky tones bring silky structure to the whisky, while avoiding the woodiness so common in long-aged whisky. Black pepper notes remain brisk and invigorating yet carefully constrained, from the middle right into the long elegant finish.

Sounds like a dream. But not all free agents are outrageously priced. I'd also put J.P. Wiser's Last Barrels, and Masterson's 10 Year Old Rye on this list.

Building Your Canadian Whisky Collection (TL;DR version)

Here's what a Canadian whisky collection might look like. Your mileage may differ.
  1. Gibson's Finest Bold 8 Year Old
  2. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
  3. Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Red Cask
  4. Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve
  5. Lot No. 40 Rye
  6. J.P. Wiser's 18 Year Old
  7. Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old
  8. Alberta Premium 30 Year Old
  9. Gooderham & Worts Little Trinity
  10. Masterson's 10 Year Old Rye
  11. J.P. Wiser's 35 Year Old
  12. Canadian Club 40 Year Old
Another candidate for the greatest team ever ? Hard to argue.


Canadian whisky may not get the respect it deserves, but things are starting to change. People are realizing just how good our whiskies can be. Our distilleries are also stepping up and producing a wider range of whiskies that are good enough to be sipped neat. As much as I hate to admit it, Canadian whisky is like the Toronto Maple Leafs; they've both been the butt of jokes for so long that we're surprised that things are finally turning around. If you haven't given Canadian whisky a chance, you really owe it to yourself to try it.

Cheers, eh !

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