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.
This, in fact, is standard Crown Royal that’s been flavored with maple. How that is achieved is, well, a little confusing. Crown says it is “made with the perfect balance of whisky and natural maple flavors to create a high quality product for Crown Royal’s consumers” — indicating that maple syrup has basically been dumped into the vat before bottling — but also that “the new installment is finished by running the whisky through maple toasted oak.” I’m not sure how you “run whisky through oak” but perhaps we can put all that aside. The fine print on the label says it’s “maple flavored,” and once you crack open the bottle, you’ll know by one sniff you aren’t dealing with a simple, wood-finished spirit.
Syrupy? You better believe it. On the nose it’s overpowering, like Mrs. Butterworth came over and gave you a swift kick to the huevos. On the tongue, it’s like Sunday morning, with syrupy waffles a-plenty to go around. It’s all very authentic, but tough to push through unless you’ve got an incredible sweet tooth. I know there’s whisky in there. I’m sure of it. But after an hour of sipping on Crown Maple (to coin a nickname), I never really found it aside from a bit of wood on the finish.
B- / $25 / crownroyal.com
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