A funny thing happens when I try to type “Canadian.” I always mistype “Candian” instead. Never has that been a more apropos typo than with Black Velvet’s Toasted Caramel Whisky.
Flavored with a hefty dose of “natural toasted caramel flavor,” this sugar bomb is so dense with sugar it’s actually difficult to swallow it. The nose cues you in for what you’re about to get hit with, but the mouthfeel is something else. It’s so sugary I swear you can feel the grains of sugar grinding around in your mouth. The “toasted caramel” (which means what, exactly?) is something akin to burned Bananas Foster, and there’s a touch of a woody finish on the end that reminds you that this is indeed whisky and not caramel-flavored vodka.
Sweet tooths only need apply.
D+ / $11 / blackvelvetwhisky.com
“Finished” has a particular meaning in the world of whisky, normally implying that a whisky has been moved from one type of barrel to another, usually a different type of wood or, more commonly, a barrel that once held another spirit or wine. “Maple finished” has actually been done before: Woodford Reserve made a maple-finished limited release Bourbon in 2010.
That’s not what Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian Whisky is.
Continue reading “Review: Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian Whisky” »
In 2006 Crown Royal released its first XR bottling, a whisky that didn’t joke when it used the “extra rare” moniker on the label. Crafted from whiskys salvaged from its Waterloo distillery, which had actually burned down, it’s safe to say that if you haven’t picked up the 2006 Crown Royal XR by now, you aren’t going to.
Now Crown is back with a new version of XR, this one from its LaSalle Distillery. LaSalle did not burn down, but the whisky remains a limited release bottling that will be on sale for only a limited time. We got a sample. Here’s how it comes across.
Light and fruity on the nose, this smells a bit like very young Bourbon, fresh and vibrant. Not much wood to be found. This is backed up on the tongue: Very fruity, with apple and banana up front, nougat, bread, and biscuit characteristics. Rye grain comes along on the finish. Not nearly as woody as the Waterloo edition, and very clean. For this price, though, I’d like to see a bit more complexity.
A- / $130 / crownroyal.com
With 1910 Pendleton (based in Hood River, Oregon) takes its Canadian whisky upmarket, bottling this 100% rye after a lengthy 12 years in oak. (The name is a reference to the first ever Pendleton Round-Up rodeo, which took place 102 years ago.)
I’ve previously discussed the standard, blended Pendleton bottling as overwhelmingly sweet, but things are more mellow with this expression. Intensely fruity, it offers lots of thick cherry notes, orange marmalade, and well-integrated spice throughout. Sweetness is still there in the form of a bit of butterscotch syrup, but it’s not overwhelming in the way regular Pendleton is.
Good balance and a strong but not overpowering body. Surprisingly mellow finish considering this is a 100% rye spirit.
A- / $40 / hrdspirits.com
The name says it all, pretty much: Canadian Rye whisky (a blend of whiskys aged 3 to 7 years — the 3, 5, and 7 refer to barrel ages) blended with Quebecois Canada 1 Light maple syrup (and caramel color). Distilled four times, it is aged in used Bourbon barrels and bottled at an odd 81 proof.
Results are significantly heavier on the Maple than the Rye. Deceptively light in color, the nose exudes the rich aroma of the forest, smoldering coals, pine cones, and wet leaves, all backed up with maple syrupy sweetness. This character hangs with you for a long while. Consumed neat, it’s got an epic finish you won’t soon forget.
There is whiskey character here, but it’s tough to peg it as Canadian rye — or any rye, or anything else specific, for that matter. Instead it comes off with more of a vague graininess somewhere in the middle of the experience, almost more like a dark beer extract than whiskey. But hey, maple syrup is a tough thing to do battle with.
Consumed solo this is all a bit much, but I can see how Tap 357 would make an exemplary ingredient for one of those modern cocktails where the sweetness comes from something other than simple sugar.
B+ / $36 / tap357.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
“It tastes like heaven, burns like hell.”
Cinnamon spice isn’t usually what people have in mind when they say a whiskey “burns,” but this 66-proof flavored oddity, made in Canada and bottled by Kentucky’s Sazerac Company, certainly doesn’t have much going on in the alco-burn department. But if you’re a fan of Hot Tamales candy and over the age of 21, you’re in luck: Fireball has managed to create a dead solid rendition of that confection.
There’s just no mistaking this whisky from the get-go. The nose is full of grated cinnamon and little else. This carries over to the body: Full of spice, a nice slug of sugar, and a long, lingering, cinnamon burn. Imagine crushing up Red Hots and steeping them in lower-proof alcohol — any alcohol will do, as Fireball doesn’t have a distinct whisky taste aside from a bit of brown sugar — and drink.
And yet, surprisingly, this isn’t a half-bad spirit. It’s not much of a departure from cinnamon schnapps, but the balance is right and the tastes are authentic. Candy-coated, to be sure, but with a week to go ’til Christmas, who’s complaining?
B+ / $17 / fireballwhisky.com
Sazerac’s Rich & Rare Canadian Whisky is a fast-growing brand — the fastest-growing U.S.-bottled Canadian brand last year — but one that is available in only about a dozen states right now. It’s also dirt cheap: The standard bottling sells for about $7.50.
The line is already expanding to add a Reserve bottling which will sell for all of $10 to $14 when it’s released this month.
This whisky — no age statement, 80 proof — is a brilliant orange in color, and citrus is the dominant flavor on the palate. It’s sweet but not cloying, with rich, sherried fruitiness to it — orange, plums, and grilled peaches. The finish is driven by the wood — caramel and cotton candy notes — but it goes out clean. While rye is obviously a component here, it’s not a dominant one: Spiciness is limited largely to the nose, where you get a touch of herbs, and a fleeting hint of it on the finish.
All told, it’s easygoing but surprisingly alive and balanced for a whisky that will probably set you back all of 13 bucks.
A- / $13 / sazerac.com
100% rye: an oddity. 100% rye from Canada, blended with Colorado-sourced water, and bottled in Sonoma, California — a real oddity.
Technically a Canadian whisky, this big rye is named after Old West lawman William “Bat” Masterson — a man who, somehow, has returned from the grave he entered in 1921 in order to put his signature on these bottles. The distillery, 35 Maple Street, is owned by Sonoma’s famed Sebastiani family. This is their first foray into whiskey.
Wine country royalty and Masterson’s autograph and picture aside, let’s look at what’s inside: As noted, 100% rye, aged for a full decade in cask. 86 proof, perfect for an old rye.
The nose is immediately huge, full of caramel, citrus, and wood notes. On the palate, even bigger: Incredibly sweet, and delightfully spicy: Cinnamon and allspice, fresh orange (not peel), with a tinge of something akin to a Moroccan spice blend lacing things up. The finish brings the essence of raisins and a drying touch, but it’s a little overwhelming in its sweetness. This kind of sugar isn’t something you often see in a rye — particularly a 100% rye — but for the most part it works. I’d love to see just a touch more balance (a la WhistlePig) in the end, but even for a bit of a sugar bomb, it’s awfully well made.
Reviewed: Batch #3, Bottle #779.
A- / $79 / mastersonsrye.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Canadian whisky outfit Forty Creek has been winning awards hand over fist for its high-quality whiskys, available at reasonable prices. We took at look at the company’s two current releases (another is coming soon), to see what all the fuss was about.
Forty Creek Barrel Select Canadian Whisky – A real slow burner. There is honey on the nose, and more on the tongue. It slips down easy, with a touch of bite. Rye? Heavy barrel toast? Finished in sherry casks, these winey notes are muted in favor of that honeyed sweetness and more grain on the finish. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of flavor — the extremely feminine sweetness colliding with rugged, frontier character. Complicated but as unbalanced as the above description would suggest. B+ / $25
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve Canadian Whisky – Double Barrel’s recipe works like this: Rye, corn, and barley whiskys are distilled and aged separately, then they are married together and aged again in first run ex-Bourbon barrels. The results are night and day vs. Barrel Select, a silky and velvety whisky with big vanilla notes. Barrel Select’s honey character is still in play but now it takes on a more evolved and refined character. A big winner. A / $50
Never mind what’s inside Collingwood: You don’t get very far without admiring the bottle. I know I’m a sucker for a nice decanter, but this thing is ridiculous, like an overgrown Chanel bottle or a glass, whisky-filled Zippo.
But on to the spirit within: This whisky is, to be blunt, unlike any I’ve ever tasted. A blend of two whiskys, aged in oak for three-plus years, and finished in toasted maplewood casks, it is sweet yet earthy and deeply wood-inflected. The nose: Woody and traditional — albeit with the addition of a little perfume — but closer to Bourbon than most Canadian whiskys. On the palate, the upfront offers a brown sugar character, but the sweetness is muted by wood. It’s not overwhelming in the way some hoary Bourbons can be, but simply mellowed out.
The ultimate effect as this washes over your palate is incredibly hard to describe. There is applesauce with cinnamon, butterscotch, cedar planks, but nothing approaching smoke or charcoal in it. The finish is baffling, with wood and earth at play with molasses and incense.
Collingwood makes a lot of claims that this is perhaps “the smoothest whisky ever made.” I’m not sure if that’s the case — though it is smooth and easy-drinking — but either way it’s much more than that simple platitude.
A- / $27 / collingwoodwhisky.com
The 10-year-old version of this workhorse Canadian whisky (various expressions of which we’ve reviewed several times, see links below), offers a lot to like in an unassuming, easygoing package. A rush of raw alcohol on the nose (let it breathe for a few minutes before diving in to help matters) portends little good, but once you shoo those vapors away, the experience begins to evolve.
The body is mild and easy, offering simple caramel and pleasant wood character. A bit of spice kicks up shortly after, with evergreen, honeysuckle, and eucalyptus tones leaving a distinct and lasting impression on the finish. There’s not a whole lot to Canadian Club 10 Year, unlike some of its high-end counterparts, but for this price, I’m not exactly looking for the moon. A great mixer.
B+ / $24 / canadianclubwhisky.com
They say three of anything is a trend. Well, by my count, we’re at five.
I’m talking about whiskeys with extra oak aging, particularly with the word “Black” added to the name.
Crown Royal Black is, as you may expect, an added-oak version of the venerable Crown Royal Canadian whisky. In this case, “black” is no joke. It may very well be the darkest color whiskey I’ve ever encountered, a deep hazelnut color in the glass. The spirit in a full bottle is nearly opaque.
This concerned me. Over-oaking is a serious risk in whiskey, and the worry of a ruined whisky was on the top of my mind. The good news is that Crown Royal Black isn’t too far gone. Yes, it is oaked to within an inch of its life, but Crown has taken it just to the edge — and brought it back again.
The body is sweet like standard Crown Royal, but laced with intense oily wood notes, cinnamon, black pepper, and dried figs. Surprisingly mild for 90 proof, that wood character even overpowers the alcohol out of the spirit.
Long and smoldering finish, like a campfire turning to ash. That, of course, has good and bad connotations. I expect CR Black may be too much whisky for many. Others will find it’s got a rustic, frontier character that also finds a bit of balance in its own odd way.
B+ / $32 / crownroyal.com
You got your spiced rum… well now you got your spiced whiskey, too!.
From Phillips Distilling in Minnesota comes Revel Stoke, a Canadian Whisky with “spice and other natural flavors” added. Relaunched after years of absence from the shelves (it was originally released in 2000 and was often written as “Revelstoke”), the cult classic (as the company refers to it) is just returning to the market this month.
If I served this to you and told you it was spiced rum, my hunch is that you’d never know the difference. Sweet but a little cloying, it offers big vanilla notes, with cinnamon and a little cherry spicing it up. The spice level is actually just about perfect, really.
What’s missing, though, is any sense of whiskey here. The spice and sweetness overshadows any of those corn or grain characters that give whiskey its nuance, and aside from the vanilla notes, even any woodiness from barrel aging is tough to get in this spirit. Worth a look if you’re a spiced rum fan on the hunt for something different.
B+ / $TBD / revelstokewhisky.com
Canadian Mist is known as a smooth, very simple, and, above all else, extremely cheap Canadian whisky. Now the company is trying to expand, broadening its product range and upgrading its image with more premium bottlings.
Canadian Mist Black Diamond is billed — alongside a gold-etched autograph from the distiller — as “a richer, more robust blended Canadian whisky.” Compared to standard Mist, it certainly is that, but frankly I think this is a step back.
In practice, Black Diamond gets its “robust” character from two things: The addition of what seems to be a lot more rye and corn in the mix, and an upgrade in proof level from 80 to 86 proof. Canadian Mist also says the sherry content is upgraded, but I found that altogether absent here.
Black Diamond’s 36-month age statement is the same as its predecessor, and three years just isn’t enough time in barrel for a mash like this. The taste is not especially rye-like but is rather overflowing with brutish corn notes, giving it a young, white dog character that is not altogether pleasant on its own. It’s a fine mixer and still a bargain at $15 a bottle, but I think the original Mist is, ironically, a more polished spirit.
C / $15 / canadianmist.com
Two new whiskies from our friends at Sazerac and their compatriots north of the border. Both limited edition bottlings with unique pedigrees, these Canadian spirits are just now hitting the market.
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel Canadian Whisky is a deceivingly light orange color, belying the amount of rich flavor it has inside. Big orange and citrus character dominate the spirit, with spiciness from the whiskey’s rye underpinnings cutting through and bringing an exotic touch to the spirit’s finish. Wood character is light, with sweet vanilla notes from barrel aging giving plenty of balance to the racier notes in the blend. It isn’t a big or overwhelming whiskey, by any stretch, but unlike so many Canadian whiskeys it is really nice and smooth on its own, in need of nothing more than an empty vessel (no mixers, ice, or water) to enjoy it fully. 80 proof. A- / $50
Royal Canadian Small Batch Canadian Whisky is less complex than Caribou Crossing, but it’s still a worthwhile whiskey. Redolent of maple syrup and mint, it’s got lots of grain-fueled rye character which adds a layer of spice atop this. Imperfectly balanced, the whiskey is more rustic in tone, though at only 80 proof hardly the rotgut stuff of the saloon era. B+ / $25
Don’t laugh. Canadian Mist may not be a top-shelf name in the Canadian whisky world, but the spirit’s been picking up some surprising awards, including a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition this year — the only Canadian to win one in 2009.
Not bad for whisky that costs 10 bucks a bottle.
It’s easy to see why Canadian Mist is so beloved by some drinkers: It’s smooth as silk, and really goes down easy. That’s not entirely a compliment, mind you: Canadian Mist isn’t what you’d call a flavorful or complex spirit. Though aged for “at least 36 months,” it’s mild to the point of being almost watery, and though it contains a fair bit of vanilla and spice character, these notes are more hinted at than being an essential part of the whisky.
It’s not at all unenjoyable, but it’s simply very plain. It is, however, easily a solid pick to reach for when mixing with Coke, ginger ale, or whatever else floats your boat.
B- / $10 / canadianmist.com
Celebrating 150 years of whiskymaking, Canadian Club recently put out a very limited edition 30-year-old bottling. With just 3000 bottles produced (there’s no mention of it on the Canadian Club website), finding it might be tough. But if you track it down, here’s what you should expect the experience to be like.
Bright amber in color, the nose is surprisingly light and only hints at wood. The first taste of the body reveals light wood notes but lots of flavor beyond that. Dried apple and banana, caramel and honey, and a good amount of spice from the rye component here. The whisky starts out hot but soon mellows — you really don’t need water with it — and its character grows the more you taste it.
There’s a touch of bitterness on the finish that tarnishes an otherwise very interesting and fairly well-balanced whisky, but it’s not quite on par with Crown Royal No. 16, which still stands as my top ultra-premium Canadian (and runs half the price).
A- / $200 / canadianclubwhisky.com
Got a fresh bottle of Pendleton and wanted to put it to a test a second time to see if maybe I was having a weird tastebud day that originally made Pendleton come across as so overwhelmingly sugary and sweet.
Bottom line: No, not really. This is Canadian whisky sweet enough to make the maple syrup industry start to get a little suspicious.
That said, I liked Pendleton a little better this time around, its smoky character a little more prominent now, and laced through with a touch of bitterness. Again, I’d have no problem dumping a shot of Pendleton into a Coke, but drinking it straight? Well… there’s just not enough mystery here. Much like standard-grade Crown Royal, this is perfectly serviceable Canadian whisky, but it still isn’t knocking my socks completely off.
Would probably upgrade to a full B if I re-rated today.
The top of the Canadian Club line, this limited-run Canadian whisky is made in small batches and aged a minimum of eight years in white oak barrels and finished in old Jerez sherry casks. Bottled at 82.6 proof into traditional and elegant bottles (complete with natural cork closure), it’s a long way from the Canadian Club you might be used to.
Like most Canadian Club expressions, this dark amber spirit hints at exotic spices, but the nose doesn’t offer many hints. The aroma is mostly of plain alcohol, with just a whiff of caramel.
Canadian Club Sherry Cask opens up considerably when you sip, offering pretty hefty flavors of sweet caramel, oak wood, and a touch of incense. Not very much sherry for my tastebuds, which is a bit surprising. At first I was a little overwhelmed with the Sherry Cask, as there’s a lot going on in this whiskey and it doesn’t always come together quite the way it should, finishing with quite a bit of roughness around the edges as the elements in play here struggle to come together. Continued sipping — sans water, it doesn’t need it — helps make sense of the thing. Nothing here will knock your socks off, but it’s still worth a try if you’re a fan of Canadian — especially if you can find it on the cheap (I’ve seen it advertised for as little as $24 a bottle, though $30 is more common).
B / $30 / canadianclubwhisky.com
Designed in all ways — from the name to the bottle to what’s inside — Snake River Stampede Canadian Whisky is a frontier-styled cowboy whiskey through and through. Aged eight years, though, this ain’t saloon rotgut but rather a surprisingly erudite whiskey that would be at home in a high-class bar as it would on the range.
A brassy gold color, this 80-proof spirit hails from Indio Spirits in Oregon (another Canadian whisky that’s primarily produced in the U.S. but named, oddly enough, after a real event that takes place not across the border but in Idaho) — stay tuned later this week for reviews of Indio’s artisan vodka line. As mentioned, it’s aged eight years, which puts a nice mellow caramel and honey touch atop the traditional rye notes in the bottle. The expected, racy rye spice, however, is considerably muted, which is a touch of a letdown.
The lightish flavors of Snake River ultimately give way to an alcoholic finish that feels a lot tougher than the 80 proof in the bottle. It fades quickly, but it’s a midly disappointing way to finish off what is otherwise a pretty solid whiskey at a very good price.
B+ / $27 / indiospirits.com