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
Two additional Crown Royal bottlings for your consideration. This classic Canadian whisky continues to expand its portfolio upward and onwards, with rarer and more expensive blends. (See also our review of Crown Royal Reserve.) Both of the below whiskys land at a perfectly accessible 80 proof.
Crown Royal Cask No. 16 – This is a very unusual whisky, a blend of 50 different whiskys that are then brought together to age in old cognac casks made from French oak. (The “16″ comes from a stamp put on the casks to indicate their place of origin and authenticity.) Served neat, you get fruit notes and a good slug of vanilla. Very smooth, it’s a fine whisky. Crown Royal recommends it served on the rocks, but I preferred it at room temperature. The cold brought out some bitterness which I found disagreeable. A / $100
Crown Royal XR Extra Rare (pictured below) – A curious blend of bourbon and rye characters, this spicy number carries an initial punch of vanilla, then backs it up with strong rye grain notes. It’s creamy in body, but the finish fades quickly, leaving you with a modest, oaky note. It’s good enough, but I think the #16 is a better, more interesting, and better balanced whisky. For your $180, though, you will at least get a great story to tell: The XR was crafted from whatever rare whiskys that they managed to save when one of Crown Royal’s distilleries, Waterloo Distillery, burned down. So, yeah, that’s pretty rare. A- / $180
Crown Royal is no Johnny Come Lately in the whisky world — though I’ve had a vague grudge against the brand since my family was mistakenly and bizarrely charged for 11 glasses of said whisky at Tony’s in Houston, Texas. But who doesn’t love that little purple bag?
Crown Royal Reserve is, obviously, the reserve version of the classic Canadian blend. Re-released this month with a new design (and a fancy little gold bag). Formerly known as “Special Reserve,” the blend also gets a slightly new, less “Special” name. The recipe, however, is the same, a selection of less than 1 percent of the stock available to the company, notably including some spicy rye whisky.
Crown Royal Reserve is a very pleasant whisky, surprisingly easy to drink even without water. The heat is minimal, allowing you to focus on the spicy notes here: cinnamon and incense, and a surprisingly light touch of vanilla from the oak barrels. Finish is short but nicely sweet. Nothing too complex, but really quite compelling… and I keep going back to it.
Now I know how those mysterious guys ordered 11 of these things.
A- / $45 / crownroyal.com
In case you haven’t been reading your glossy magazines, the venerable Canadian Club is working on a comeback, with retro ads touting the whiskey as what “your dad drank” in a broad appeal to both your machismo and your father complex. Sure enough, though, if you check Dad’s liquor cabinet, he’s probably got a half-consumed bottle of the Club in there, likely bottled around 1974.
Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, Canadian Club sent a bottle of the Classic 12, (aka just Canadian Club Classic), a step up from the traditional Canadian Club, which is aged for just six years.
80 proof and obviously blended with care, it’s a very light and generally harmless whiskey. The flavor is muted. The finish is very short. What’s there is traditional whiskey notes of honey and some light flower character. Not much to it. Drink it with water and you may feel like you’re sipping iced tea. (Hmmm… maybe that’s why dad drank so much of it.)
That said, who’s going to argue with the likes of Al Capone, who counted Canadian Club as his favorite tipple?
B- / $17 / canadianclubwhisky.com
Got a sweet tooth? Have I got a whiskey for you. Pendleton’s Canadian blended whisky (they spell it without the E) is aged for 10 years in barrels and bottled at 80 proof. Oddly, it is made from Oregon water and bottled in Oregon, to boot… yet it’s a Canadian whisky. Go figure.
Sip #1 indicates how overwhelmingly sweet this whisky is. It almost tastes like sugar has been added, it’s that strong. Honey, brown sugar… whatever it is, it’s sweet. Did I mention sweet? Cut through that and you’ll find some floral notes and a bit of Scotch-like smokiness. There’s no harshness at all here, this is easy to sip… if your teeth are up to it. For me, I couldn’t finish a glass of the stuff.
This would be fine in a sweet cocktail or with Coke, but on its own it’s a tough proposition.
B- / $22 / hrdspirits.com