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Thread: Neil's Ongoing Liquor Review - Canadian whiskey

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2000
    Seattle WA
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    Beer Neil's Ongoing Liquor Review - Canadian whiskey

    This month(s) itís Canadian Whisky. Actually, I skipped September, due to a busy schedule, so this review is for September and October.

    Canada has been producing whisky since the 18th century. Like the USA, Canadaís distilling industry owes its start to Scottish Ė Irish immigrants who took advantage of ideal conditions to grow grain crops.

    The main area for crops and distilling in those early days was in the Ontario region. Like in the USA, the distilleries were using excess grain and the good water supply near the mills used to grind the grain to make a highly profitable beverage from the excess grain which otherwise would have spoiled.

    As in all situations where a crop can be converted to alcohol, the alcohol takes up less space in storage than the grain, doesnít spoil, and it was very profitable, so it made great economic sense.

    Canada never developed strict rules and regulations about percentages of grains must be used in distillation. As a result, Canadian whiskies vary quite a bit compared to American Bourbon whiskies that use the same types of grains, but are made in accordance with US laws as to the minimum percentage of each type of grain in the mash bill. About the only hard fast rule I can find on Canadian whisky is that it must be aged for at least three years in charred oak barrels.

    If there is anything all Canadian whiskies have in common, it is a slight buttery caramel sweetness and hints of the grain- grass and spice from the barley and rye, sweetness from the corn. If you like sweeter types of adult beverages, Canadian whiskies will most likely be to your taste. Canadians are good mixing whiskies in my book.

    So what makes Candian whisky different from American Bourbonís? The major difference in Canadian whisky to American bourbon, despite the use of the same types of grains, American bourbons are always distilled at a lower proof, no more than 160 proof by law, and aged in cask at about 120 proof.

    Canadian whiskies are distilled to a much higher proof, and are actually neutral grain spirits, (vodka) when they come off the still and as such, have few flavoring components. To flavor this neutral grain spirit, less highly distilled whisky is added for flavor and aroma. This heavier less highly distilled whisky added for flavor is quite often a pot still whisky. To the United States bourbon standards, this would be called a blended whisky. But ignore that distinction and any possible negative connotations. This is simply how Canadian whisky is made.

    Canadian whiskey and the popularity of it in the USA really owes a big nod to the Bipolar attitudes of the United States government and its hypocritical views on alcohol consumption. Thanks to the US prohibition, running Canadian whisky was a big time enterprise for smugglers all across the Canadian border from Washington state all the way across to Maine. Smugglers ran Canadian whisky, rum, beers, most anything with alcohol for consumption, across the boarders to satisfy the US thirst for alcohol. (BTW, Canada had itís own attempt at prohibition from about 1915 to about 1925, but one by one, provinces dropped any attempts at enforcement since they realized the futility of trying to enforce those laws)

    So, Canadian whisky was available readily for drinkers in the United States. And people developed a taste for Canadian whiskies of the time, which were light in aroma and taste, easy to drink, and mixed well. After prohibition ended, this taste for lighter whiskies remained in the USA and resulted in the continued popularity of blended whiskies and Canadian whiskies in the USA. The current popularity of Straight Bourbons and Single Malt Whiskies in the USA only took 50+ years to redevelop after prohibition was repealed!!

    Iím not a fan of most Canadian whiskies. I like a bolder, more intense, less sweet flavor in my whiskies as shown by my fondness for Ardbeg (Islay) and Springbank (Campbelton) Scotches. Canadian whiskies as a result of the manufacturing process tend to be lighter in aroma and flavor development, as well as sweeter. So most Canadian whiskies are just not to my taste.

    Then why am I reviewing Canadian whiskies? Canadian whiskies are very popular in numerous parts of the world. Crown Royal, R&R, Seagrams, McNaughton, Black Velvet, and Canadian Club as prime examples, can be found in almost every bar in the Americas. Iíve found Canadian whiskies in Mexico and Japan, and friends in traveling around the world have spotted Canadian whiskies on the shelf of bars. Any booze with that popularity should be recognized and given some consideration.

    Second, as part of learning to taste for quality, you try to see what the distiller is trying to achieve, and view their make from that point of view, you can then decide if the whisky is crud or a well made product. Remember, quality tasting, not getting drunk.

    Recently there has been an attempt to develop more of a following for Canadian whiskies with higher end, more flavorful offerings than what the mass market demands in their beverage. Glenora, makers of Glen Breton, the only Canadian Single Malt, and Forty Creek from Kittling Ridge distillery, reviewed below, are good examples of the mid to upper end. Wiser Deluxe is a lower cost example of outstanding balance and quality in a Canadian Whisky. What is great is many of these better whiskies are not overly expensive, under $30 in the case of Forty Creek and under $20 for Wiser Deluxe.

    Iíve reviewed a handful of popular and upscale whiskies from the Great White North, a few surprisingly good in every standard. I still am not going to be looking to stock Canadian whiskies in my cabinet when I can fit a bottle of Scotch or Irish Whisky in the space. I will say Iíve come away with a much better appreciation for the quality that is now coming out of the Canadian whisky distillers. The Forty Creek, Snake River, and Wiserís Deluxe are the whiskies that particularly impressed me.

    A few whiskies Iíd love to have reviewed but canít get here in Washington (or lost my tasting notes from trips to Canada) are; Alberta Premium, Schenley OFC (the 8-year-old Canadian version, not the USA 6-year-old) and Glen Breton. If any of our Canadian members cares to sacrifice part of their liver and kidney functions and some brain cells, please review them, following the template I use here.

    If you disagree with my review, in the words of Bob and Doug McKenzie, ďTake off Hoser!Ē

    Canadian Club
    Color: Light golden brown
    Nose: Fruity, peaches, nuts
    Mouth: Light bodied
    Taste: More fruit, hint of spice, oak and sweet, thin and light
    Finish: Short, sweet and nutty.
    Notes: Unbalanced, it just tastes odd and rough neat, drink this one on the rocks, or mixed. Side note: I did have a bottle of 1979 Canadian Club from the old British Columbia distillery operated until the early 1980ís. The bottling I tasted for this review is sharp and harsh, less well balanced than the old 1979 bottle. The older bottling is much better balanced in flavor, crisp with rye in the background and not as sweet. If you have a relative who has an old bottle from the early 1980ís or before, steal it. It probably will be one of the better Canadian whiskies you will taste.

    Crown Royal
    Color: Golden brown
    Nose: lots of fruit, honey, some rye spice, grass
    Mouth: Medium bodied
    Taste: Toffee- caramels, Apple, apricots, sweet
    Finish: Medium finish, more sweetness, hints of rye spiciness.
    Notes: Developed in honor of the British Monarchís tour of Canada. This is meant to be a ďPremium quality whiskyĒ. Very sweet, with a caramel toffee that dominates. A bit more rye to counter the sweetness would balance this whisky out nicely. Although Crown Royal has a very pleasing nose to me, this is a mixing whisky to my taste buds due to the sweetness. Drink this one with a large splash of water or soda, or with lots of ice.

    Forty Creek Barrel Select
    Color: Light to medium brown
    Nose: Chocolate, nuts, fruit
    Mouth: Medium to full body
    Taste: Chocolate, plums, apricots, spice, and butter, honey
    Finish: Spicy, chocolate, nuts, warm and medium length
    Notes: Lots of complexity in this one, very well balanced. One of the better Canadian whiskies Iíve tasted. This one is very good neat, but even better with a small bit of ice or water to open the nose and taste.

    Snake River Stampede
    Color: Dark brown
    Nose: Light, clean, fruit, and caramel, citrus, sweet
    Mouth: Medium bodied smooth
    Taste: Caramel, Spice, citrus in the background
    Finish: Medium to long, warm mild sweetness emerges with more spice.
    Notes: MMMM, good. At a low 80 proof, it has no bite. This whisky is well balanced between the crisp spice of rye and sweetness of corn. Whatís even better is this bottling is under $25. You can drink this one neat but use a splash of water, or a few small cubes of ice to get the best flavor and aroma development.

    Pendleton Whisky
    Color: Light brown orange
    Nose: Sweet, citrus, spice, herbal
    Mouth: Light to medium bodied
    Taste: Malty sweet, light spice, slight nutty background
    Finish: Spice hints, more sweetness, which become cloying quickly
    Notes: Like another Canadian import, William Shatnerís singing career, you wonder why anyone would do this. Even drinking maple syrup and chasing it down with a shot of vodka beats drinking this stuff. Donít be fooled by the wonderfully designed bottle; this is not good whisky.

    Color: Light gold
    Nose: Sharp, biting, some fruit hints, honey, light spice
    Mouth: Light bodied
    Taste: Sharp alcohol bite, honey, light spice
    Finish: Short, harsh, some redeeming sweetness and spice
    Notes: Rich? Nope. Rare? Nope. A mixer and paint thinner substitute, and itís about $10 for a reason. If you have to choose one or the other, buy the paint thinner, it will taste better.

    Tangle Ridge
    Color: Golden brown
    Nose: Sweet, rye spiciness, vanilla-cream caramel
    Mouth: Medium bodied
    Taste: Sweet and cloying, more vanilla, sherry makes the sweetness worse
    Finish: Medium finish, and not pleasant.
    Notes: I donít know what the goal of this whisky is supposed to be, but to me it appears to be to make people not want to drink Canadian whisky. This is supposedly hand crafted with all rye for mashbill, aged for 10 years, and then blended with sherry and vanilla. If there is a whisky that can make Pendleton seem acceptable to drink, this is it. This is just bad, bad whisky.

    Wisers Deluxe
    Color: golden brown
    Nose: Light, then it deepens with grains, a slight charred oak, and sweet, a hint of chocolate
    Mouth: Medium to full bodied
    Taste: Caramel, light vanilla and chocolate, oak, rye spice
    Finish: Long, slightly sharp, warm then spicy, a bit of oak
    Notes: A very good well balanced whisky. Just a hint too sweet at first, but the crisp rye and oak counter the initial sweetness. This is a very good buy at under $20 per bottle. If you like lighter flavored bourbons, this will be a good Canadian whisky to try. This one is good enough to drink neat, but you get the best aroma and flavor with a splash of water and a few cubes of ice.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
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    Interesting review. Did you test all that stuff by yourself?
    N. Schweizer

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
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    Hey Neil,

    Have tried Canada's only single malt whiskey/scotch?
    Cape Breton Rare.
    They distill it on Cape Breton Island on the east coast.
    It's been so long since I've tasted it I would think of trying a review.

    Chris Luttrell

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2000
    Seattle WA
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    Yes, over a period of time, I've tasted and taken notes. That's where the information comes from in my reviews. I don't sit down and taste them all in a short period of time. Each review where I'm doing more than one or two liquors is a work compiled over a few months.

    It helps to have a bartender who will pour you 4 half shots and then charge you for only 2 drinks total.

    Chris, Nope, like I said in my review, I can't get Glenora's whiskey (the parent company making the Glen Breton branded whiskies) in Washington state. If you care to review it, please do. Just use the template I've used in my reviews so far.

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