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