Thanks to Wiser’s for inviting myself and /u/muaddib99 as part of the Toronto Whisky Society. Please note that while we appreciate being invited, our reviews are our own and Wiser’s has not edited these at all. Sharp pointy sticks to all our crouches. There, they wouldn’t allow that, no one likes that and whisky. Well, very few people do.
In a few weeks the first Northern Border Collection will come to Ontario. And as I await how the LCBO screws up what should be the best thing to happen to Canadian whisky in a long time, I was lucky enough, weeks ago, to try it in a luxurious setting.
Take a second to imagine yourself, on a lake, in a room filled with bartenders, whisky geeks, and being lead through the tasting of 8 new whiskies by Dave Mitton, Global Brand Ambassador, and Ross Hendry, Brand Director. You have an hour. I made it through 7 of them. Also there was some lamb roasting on the beach, flowing into the room.
While I feel that I could do better, I still was able to compare my old notes on the 3 whiskies I’ve had before. As such, I’m fine sharing these reviews. I will be re-reviewing these again.
But what is the Northern Border Collection (NBC… oh, wait, that may be already taken). So a few years ago, Ross had taken over as brand director at Corby. And the first thing he did was look around the whisky world, and see what Canada was not doing.
Of all the major whisky making countries, Canada is the only one who doesn’t have a premium growth. We have a long history of Canadian whisky, yet nothing has blossomed. Thus Ross is going to try and change that (time will tell).
So he looked at BTAC (Buffalo Trace Antique Collection), which if you haven’t heard of, is an annual release of 5 distinct bourbons from Buffalo Trace. Each one shows off a different aspect.
Thus the idea was formed with the Northern Border Collection. However where as bourbon shows off age, types of rye, cask strength, and other aspects of where it’s aged, and Scotch can show off the different regions, Canadian whisky is different. We don’t have regions. We typically have a ubiquitous flavour profile (in recent history).
So instead we ended up with four new whiskies that show age, maturation (casks), grain and production processes upon each whisky. Each of these are a line extension of a current whisky, which was offered at the same time.
So let’s get down to it. Some of these I’ve had before, and I sadly had to skip re-reviewing the Wiser’s 18, as I was running out of time.
Gooderham & Worts is up first. The idea behind this one is to show off the grain. In the case of the standard release, we have a mixture of pot distilled and column distilled rye, wheat, barley, and corn.
So we start with grain. You know, that stuff you enjoy after it’s been distilled. Or in bread.
Now I want bread. Dammit.
Price: $44.95 CAD at the LCBO
Colour: 2.5Y 8/10
Nose: Apple, cinnamon, tarragon, coconut
Spice, some fruit. The rye pops out here, and there’s not too much youth of the grain on the taste. Like the apple and cinnamon on the nose. Coconut makes it quite dry.
Taste: Melon, corn/vegetal, wood, caramel, butter
Now we have more of a vegetal note. Lots of vegetal notes. Can throw you off. When I first had Gooderham & Worts, I noted that I was missing the spice on the taste. Want more rye here.
Finish: Cloves, melon, toffee, apple, oak
Ah, there’s the rye element. Back to apple, toffee, and cloves. Oak is present, even though it’s young. It’s not super complex, however for a grain whisky, I’m impressed. The blending has improved upon a type of whisky I’m not typically a fan of.
Conclusion: We have a show off of what grains can do. Without the rye here, we’d have a light, sweet whisky. The rye does the job, which makes me happy. For all Canadians calling all whisky of ours “rye”, we just don’t get good rye. This is blending (pun) the idea of typical Canadian whisky with those rye notes. A good upgrade over what’s on the market for Canadian now.
That said, I want more time for the taste to open up.
Gooderham & Worts 17 Little Trinity 3 Grain is the upgrade. Gooderham & Worts was a distillery in Toronto. It’s now a nice shopping area in Toronto. With a good chocolate store.
Little Trinity is the name of the church setup by William Gooderham in 1842 to ensure his employees could go to church, as the high pew fees kept them from going.
The question going in: This is age stated, however is it just the before aged some more? The answer is no. This is made up of 5 different spirits. In the traditional Canadian way each was aged separately and then blended for the final product.
Gooderham & Worts 17 Little Trinity 3 Grain includes 3 corn whiskies, of which one was virgin oak, one was first fill ex-bourbon, and a third was a multiple time ex-bourbon casks.
Then they grab a rye whisky matured in ex-bourbon and a wheat whisky matured in virgin oak. So no barley was added, which is a change we see.
So let’s see how this tastes, shall we?
Price: $79.95 CAD
Colour: 7.5Y 9/8
Nose: Brown butter, wood, vegetal, coconut
More nuttiness than the younger version. Gone is the apple and spice, and replaced with it is more dry, vegetal, and coconut notes. I’m missing some of that young rye element, though the brown butter is quite nice.
Taste: Cinnamon, butter, soft oak, guava, Wheatabix, caramel
Hey, there’s the spice! That’s what I’m here for. More developed taste. If you’re a nose fan, this may turn you off. Or turn you on. I don’t kink shame.
Here we have a well developed cereal note, a great caramel continuation of the butter from the nose, and a taste that develops well with water.
Finish: Butter, yeast, cloves, wheat, butter, varnish, dry pear
Butter is the connector between each element. So much so that I wrote it twice above. There’s a good amount of fat here. The cereal isn’t though, and it comes out as a wheat flavour, which isn’t adding to it well.
Conclusion: An interesting mix, and definitely a different whisky. While the methods between the former and the Little Trinity are similar, they are different, in some nice ways and some ways that I’m a little off on.
Where as the younger is spice dominant and reminds me of rye, the older is butter and wood heavy. The rye spices are nice and tasty, however not the main show. The main thing here is the development of the cereal notes. It’s impressive they were able to build up these types of flavours from corn whiskies being the predominant, however I hope next year they use more rye.
Pike Creek 10 Rum Cask is a new one for me. I had previous bought and reviewed the port cask. At the end of the day, rum casks are easier to source within the company compared to port casks. Also the finish doesn’t take as long, with this whisky being a double distilled column still whisky that is aged for 10 years before being finished for 120 day in ex-rum casks.
I was a fan of the port cask. I’m a big fan of port casks. I find rum casks, historically, have varying quality, can be overdone, and can do some odd shit. So when I heard the change, I was less than happy. However I’m not hear to base things on my pre-conceived notions. I’m here to try whisky. So let’s see how this tastes, shall we?
Price: $39.95 CAD at the LCBO
Colour: 10YR 6/10
Nose: Brine, brown sugar, oak, herbal, maple
Nice amount of salt and brown sugar. It’s not overly sweet to me, however given time/water, it may overpower some people. The oak and herbal notes help to balance it all out though.
Taste: Oak, brown sugar, lots of nutmeg, lemon rind
A lot of nutmeg. A metric island of nutmeg. That’s how nutmeg is weighed. In Islands.
There’s some interesting notes. Again, it may be too sweet for some, however a little water brings out a balancing acidity.
Finish: Molasses, oak, ginger, cinnamon heat, alcohol/menthol
Hot finish. May be too much. It’s a little rough, and follows the older port cask in the heat at the end. Water helps, though I feel if Canada could stop freaking out about alcohol amount that this could be more balanced at 46%.
Conclusion: An interesting dram. So let’s get down to brass tacks: I gave the original port cask a slightly too high of a review. My obvious love of port casks amped it up too much.
That said, I still enjoyed the port cask over the rum. This is a whisky where the rum is adding a slightly something, versus a whisky that is defined by the cask. While there’s a lot of the rum on the taste, I never get the feeling like the rum has the right thing to pair with. The whisky itself is sweet. There’s some balance of brine, acid, and what not, and I love the spice, however… well I think rum isn’t doing everything it could. Or maybe another cask is needed.
None the less, this is still a great whisky to use in cocktails, as I later found out with a few old fashions. As such, I have to give it the edge of the grain above.
Pike Creek 21 Speyside Cask is a bit different. Like that one kid who had green hair in grade 5. Or always wore a suit to public school (private school if you’re in the UK). They aren’t completely out there, just different enough.
We’ve seen Scotch casks used before, however in these cases, it’s typically a peated cask. Balvenie does this, High West does this, and even Old Pulteney has been playing around with it. However the other Scottish regions don’t sell their casks.
Thus we have a 21 year whisky that has been finished in a ex-Speyside cask that was once owned by Chivas brothers. The mashbill was corn with less than 5% rye, so we’re looking at a less spicy whisky to start.
So let’s see how this tastes, shall we?
Price: $89.95 CAD at the LCBO
Colour: 5Y 9/8
Nose: Peanut, butter, wood panels, cinnamon
Initial nose of peanuts and butter. It’s a very light nose. I was really pushing myself. Not to mention the cinnamon was faint. I still wonder if that was some of the smoke reacting with the whisky though, so I want to try this nose again.
Taste: Pear, brown sugar, sour candy, cotton, lime, coconut oil, butter
Lots more on the taste than the nose. It’s an interesting dram. It jumps between fat to sugar to acidic notes, back and forth. The whisky is somewhat all over the place. Very interesting notes for a Canadian whisky.
Finish: Cinnamon, cotton, maple candy, cloves, spiced honey
Okay, I’m feeling better about the cinnamon notes once I have the finish. Though I’ll still swear vengeance on the lamb. And then eat it. To avenge my tasting.
Nice finish, though nothing that screams “This is 20 years old”
Conclusion: I think my issue with this dram is the name. Hang on for a second.
This is meant to show off the influence of the casks. And it accomplishes that nicely, with different acidity and complexity on the taste. Or rather a lot of notes on the taste. However nothing ever comes forward as quite complex otherwise. I enjoy drinking it, and it’s certainly nice, however it misses the “and then” note. The “bass drop”. The “deus ex machina” that causes the Greek play to end.
It’s nice, though not my favourite of the new ones. I’ll be interested to see other types of casks, and maybe a longer finish, in the future.
Lot 40 (NAS) is a different Lot 40 than the last one I reviewed. Originally Lot 40 had a date on it. I haven’t been able to find one from the 90s. Add it to the list of silly things I’d love to have.
This whisky, along with the one below it, show off the production process, making a proper rye, rather than a colloquial one for the Canadian market.
Lot 40 (NAS) is the current Canadian Whisky to buy. I’ll flat out say that, right up front. It was brought back, it’s a proper rye, and it’s been the one I recommend to people… other than Alberta Premium Dark Horse.
However I’ve never had this recent one. Maybe it’s gone downhill. I know I enjoyed the older one. I even enjoyed a single cask Lot 40 cask strength sample recently.
So let’s check back in with this one, shall we?
Price: $39.95 CAD at the LCBO
Colour: 10YR 6/10
Nose: Varnish, lemon, cloves, vanilla, vegetal, brown butter, mustard, banana
Yeah, still good. Review done. . . . . Oh, I guess I should probably do more than that, shouldn’t I?
Initial nose is a strong alcohol note, even after letting it rest for a long time. Lots of spice, tons of combination of nuttiness, creaminess, and funk fruit. Very nice nose, though the vegetal or varnish may turn you off initially. Give it time.
Taste: Cloves, cinnamon, butter, yeasty bread, sea air
Tons of spice, butter, and yeasty bread. Do you need more? Are you one of those “non-carb” people? Oh, it’s a allergy or disease. Now I feel like a dick. Sorry.
It works nicely together. Nothing seems off here. I can sip this all day.
Finish: Butter, oak, sweetened coconut milk, maple syrup, rye bread, heat
Sweeter, more consistent Canadian profile finish at the end, that doesn’t mean a bad thing. It’s hotter, there’s more of a rye dominant mashbill here. Good creaminess, though can be rough if you’re not ready for it.
Conclusion: The 2012 has more fruit, and that rounds it out some more. While I love the combination here, it’s hard to ignore that is missing in this case. I don’t miss the orange elements, however this is the rye of Canada at the moment for me. It’s the one I pour anyone who doesn’t think there’s a good Canadian whisky.
Gee, I wonder what it would taste like if it was, you know, 12 years old and cask strength…
Lot 40 12 Cask Strength is just that: A mixture of a few barrels, versus what I’ve been lucky to have before which was single barrel samples that made their way through the whisky world.
I’ll be honest: This is what I’ve been waiting for. This is what I’ve wanted. And the fact that it’s also age stated makes me want it even more.
So let’s see if I amped up my happiness for nothing shall we?
Price: $69.95 CAD at the LCBO
Colour: 5YR 5/10
Nose: Varnish, beets, wasabi, brown butter, cherry blossoms, pine, fresh laundry
Again, lots of varnish at first, however that goes to a hot, earthy note. Different than before, the additional alcohol is giving more of a floral rye element here, with some residual nuttiness.
It takes to water nicely. More developed floral notes pop up in it with water.
Taste: Clove ham fresh from the oven, cinnamon hearts, pear upside down cake, guava
Spicer, more balanced sweetness than the last single cask I had. Lots of complexity on the taste. Different fruit I wanted in the NAS that was missing from the 2012, powerful spice.
A little water goes a long way, and something I recommend.
Finish: Rye bread with butter, licorice, chocolate raisins, pear
Lots of rye and butter notes. More spice, some chocolate, and pear. Oddly the finish changes little with water, only showing a little more fruit on it. I enjoyed the buttery and chocolate notes.
Conclusion: So a different whisky again. It’s hard to compare the single cask, high end sample that I had before to this one. This is more balanced and has some more work on it. Too much sweets on the last one, where as this could be worked upon. Perhaps by a blender. Who has a PHD in this sort of thing. Maybe.
That said, there were some blasts of flavours missing, to some extent. While the nose blew me away, the taste seemed slightly more muted. Part of that pay off of blending I’d say. I enjoyed this, and I’ll be buying it. Perhaps yearly.
J.P. Wiser’s 35 is the final one. It’s the one about the age statement, as Canadian whiskies that are this old aren’t something you see often. In my life I can count on one hand the amount that go over 30 years, and each of them has been quite limited.
This is a corn whisky that has been given the time to age. It’s the oldest one ever released by Wiser’s, having sit in ex-bourbon casks for 35 years. It is a blend, however the amount of column/pot distilled rye is under 10%. These were aged in virgin oak barrels.
So we have two interesting ideas going on here: Working with age, however also interesting blending techniques.
So let’s see how this tastes, shall we?
Price: $164.95 CAD at the LCBO
Colour: 7.5YR 5/10
Nose: Black liquorice pipe candy, strawberry, smashed basil, violets, earth
Spicer than I thought it would be, given the low amount of rye used in the blend. The floral aspects mixed nicely with earth and sweet notes.
There’s moments where this goes from complex to less complex. It’s hanging on the edge there, which may throw some off.
Taste: Plum candy, spritey, butterscotch, cherry flan, anise
Almost youthful at first, the high alcohol content is mostly due to Canada’s low amount of loss due to Angel’s Share. This takes nicely to water (again, just a little), opening up some more creamy notes.
Again it jumps between complex to not so complex again.
Finish: Violets, salted plum, cloves, fresh cantaloupe, rosemary, coconut
Rye takes over at the end, however the corn whisky works well with the high esters. I enjoy sipping on this. And at this point I find it’s interesting, almost like a young and old whisky mixed together, giving the best of both worlds.
That’s not the case at all, just gives me that feeling.
Conclusion: So there’s a few things going on here. It goes from complex to simple. I’d say that even after 35 years, corn whisky doesn’t have a lot complexity to it. I’m guessing. So the rye adds the complex notes, and the corn has the developed, though “spritey” and oak dominant notes.
That can throw you off. Most times, when you sit down to a 30+ whisky, you expect nothing but complexity. I personally enjoyed it quite a bit more than the 18 year, which I felt was missing that extra duality.
At the end of the day, this is a try before you buy. I really, really liked it, however that wasn’t ubiquitous amongst my fellow inebriated whisky tasters.
World Whisky reviews #271-277, Canada reviews #96-102, Whisky Network review #1203-1209