Last night I was invited, as part of the Toronto Whisky Society, to a launch event for Canadian Club 40. It was completely free. I disclose this to be clear.
Also, as a note, prior to the tasting I had a maple bacon old fashioned. In order to mitigate any odd flavours coming in, I made sure to talk to other whisky geeks after the tasting, and update. Again, being clear here, and I stand by review after doing that.
Finally, I was wearing white and facing east while tasting this. Just in case anyone feels that really is going to have an impact as well.
We’re in the midst of what’s shaping up to be a big change in Canadian whisky. We’re seeing new distilleries starting, a change in the laws that should allow for additional growth, and finally, established companies are bringing out premium whiskies. In the case of Canadian Club, they’ve released the oldest Canadian whisky ever.
You know, that small thing. This whisky was laid down originally with the plan to be used, like a lot of Canadian whiskies, to be blended. In Canada, we make each part of the mashbill into a whisky, age it, then blend them together after the fact.
So they lay this down in 1977, and then it waits there. In an ex-rye barrel, which isn’t something you run into. Specifically from Jim Beam. And it was given an “aggressive char” (the CC brand ambassador’s words). The blender left no notes on what to do with them. Thus… the people at Canadian Club were diligent, waited, and topped them up when necessary.
So a little different of a whisky. No colour added, as after 40 years the colour was perfect. Also not blended: It’s just the corn distillate that was in the barrels. It was watered down to 45%, as it came out at 60%.
Let’s see how it turned out, shall we?
Price: $249.95 at the LCBO
Cask Type: Ex-rye American oak
Distillate: Corn (no blends)
Total amount of bottles: 7,000
Colour: 7.5Y 9/5
Nose: Amber honey, grass, violets, butterscotch
Take a typical Canadian whisky nose. And make it subtle. Yes, you’re going to initially think “This is Canadian Whisky”, which is fair. However given some time I found more floral notes came off of it.
Also a more dry nose. So for me it was less maple. That said, in complete disclosure, others stated maple. So we’re splitting hairs here.
Taste: Pepper, violets, dry mead, honeydew, Autumn spices, caramel
Full bodied mouthfeel. That’s the first thing that hits you. Also a good amount of peppery notes.
Taste blind, I would have thought this was a rye. And not in the colloquial term that used here in Canada. It’s quite floral, there’s a dry element of honey, and eventually spices rise to the top. Quite interesting.
I’m searching for a little bit more complexity. It’s certainly different from a typical Canadian whisky, and differs from the core Canadian Club profile.
Finish: Mineral, wood, violets, mead, cinnamon/cloves, weak coffee bean
Long finish, which is quite nice. However, and I know this is a four letter word among whisky nerds, smooth.
I enjoy the minerality here as it’s balanced. I also enjoy the earth/spice elements, as I’m a sucker for rye (again, actual definition, not meaning Canadian whisky here).
That all said, while I enjoy this, I’m not getting a heavy wood note that I would expect. The spice and honey notes are dominant here. Similar concerns on complexity here.
Conclusion: So let’s break this all down: On the plus sides, they’ve taken the corn whisky to what I would think is an interesting point. We’ve ended up with a hybrid between a rye and a corn whisky. There’s interesting flavours that come from each, giving you a balance between what’s normally an old and young whisky.
The mouthfeel is very nice, and the finish is long. I loved the mineral notes on the finish, and feel overall this is well balanced.
So where’s the downside? While this is nice to sip on, it is hurt by it’s age. The complexity of a 40 year old whisky is expected to be “BLAM” and this isn’t there. Is it because they kept refilling the barrels? Some people I’ve spoken with feel that’s done it. It’s a trade off for rounding out rough edges, and frankly based on the stories of this whisky, it probably was never meant to be 40 years.
Does that make it a failure or a mistake? Not at all.
End of the day I think this is a fine whisky. Canadian Club could have mixed this all up and sold it for double, and made the money. We’re seeing positive changes to the Canadian whisky environment with releases like this. It’s an old whisky for under $300 that most people will enjoy. They didn’t mess around with it at all. They used ex-rye barrels, a current trend. And they released it at 45%, which is a huge plus and showed in the flavours.
So try this. Buy it if you’re a Canadian Whisky geek. And I hope Canadian Club learns from this, and continues to push the limits.
World Whisky review #277, Canada review #103, Whisky Network review #1215