Review: Canadian Club 100% Rye

canadian club 100 rye

I don’t remember the last time we saw something new from Canadian Club (turns out it was 2011), but with absolutely no warning or fanfare the blender has released a new whisky. As the name fairly freely suggests, it’s 100% rye, produced by the rye giants at Alberta Distillers Ltd.

As a reminder, “rye” whiskey need only be 51% rye (the remainder being comprised of corn and other grains), and rye as we know it tends to be all over the map, mashbill-wise. This bottling is, of course, unadulterated rye, and while there’s no age information offered, we do know it is blended from three different barrel types: new white oak, once-used bourbon barrels, and refill Canadian whisky barrels.

Despite the “100%” moniker, this is an entry-level rye. The nose kicks things off with fairly heavy granary notes, with some brown butter, heavy-char wood, and some darker floral elements. The aroma comes across as relatively immature, lacking in the spicier elements inherent in a great rye.

The palate shows modest improvement, tempering the grain — still considerable — with butterscotch, caramel corn, and notes of burlap. These notes all fade away quite quickly though, finishing the experience rapidly and cleanly. That grainy focus sticks with you however, though not in an oppressive or unsatisfying way. Rather, it serves as a gentle reminder that no matter what grain or grains you put in the mash, it’s the time in the barrel that really matters.

80 proof.

B / $20 / canadianclub.com

Review: Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend

crown royal cornerstone blend

Crown Royal is embarking on a new collection of whisky releases called the Noble Collection. This will be a series of annual, limited releases (no time horizon has been announced), each designed to “showcase Crown Royal’s team of talented distillers and blenders and named for the whisky brand’s noble roots.” (Crown Royal reminds us that the brand originated as a gift for King George VI when he visited Canada in 1939.)

The first installment of the Noble Collection, Cornerstone Blend, is a blend of three whiskies, and Crown Royal has taken the interesting step of actually telling us a little bit about all three of them: a traditional Canadian rye, a rye made using Crown’s Coffey still, and a “bourbon-style Canadian whisky” that is matured in American oak. There’s no additional data on the three whiskies or their proportion in the blend, but that’s a nice start.

I take that back: It’s even better than that, because Crown Royal sent individual samples of all three of the component whiskies for us to check out as well as a sample of the finished blend. Before we move on to the review of the finished product, let’s take a quick look at the trio on their own to see what ingredients we’re working with. (Note: All three samples are cask strength, while the finished blend was brought down to 40.3% abv.)

The Cornerstone rye (111.4 proof) is quite gorgeous, a spicy, toffee-heavy whisky with a long finish of cloves and toasted wood. The Cornerstone Coffey rye (122.8 proof) has some similar characteristics, but is less polished and has a duller profile on the whole, with a heavy grainy character and some flabbiness on its finish. A lot of the character of the finished product clearly comes from this component, which is the least engaging of the trio. Finally, the Cornerstone “bourbon-style” whisky (136.4 proof) is engaging but is almost overloaded with sweetness, featuring butterscotch, cocoa powder, and ample barrel char.

Putting everything together, it’s a bit less than the sum of its parts. Crown Royal Cornerstone Blend is a bit of an odd whisky, punctuating a heavy barrel char character on the nose with briny notes, camphor, and some green olive notes. Sweetness is elusive at first, but shows its face on the restrained palate, which shows off notes of blonde wood, furniture polish, some raisins, and some rye-driven baking spices, including cloves and ginger. The finish is mild and short, in keeping with the greater experience: On the whole Cornerstone is dialed back, way back, a very model of restraint so effective that it’s difficult to get a proper handle on its essence. It’s not a bad whisky, but it comes across as a bit plain, almost to the point of boredom.

80.6 proof.

B- / $50 / crownroyal.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric Bourbon 22 Years Old

rhetoric 22 years old

Diageo’s Orphan Barrel project has an ambitious goal with the Rhetoric brand. First released as a 20 year old in 2014, it was further aged and reissued as a 21 year old last year, and as a 22 year old this month. 23, 24, and 25 year olds will be forthcoming through the remainder of the decade.

We have had the good fortune to taste the new release alongside both the 20 and 21… a practice we hope to keep running over the course of the six whiskey releases (supplies in our stock permitting).

Here’s how Rhetoric 22 (still 86% corn, 8% barley, 6% rye, distilled at Bernheim in the early 1990s) shapes up against its forebears.

At age 22, Rhetoric is showing ample wood — one might say it’s become the primary focus of the bourbon at this point in its life — though the nose backs that up with some aromas of Port wine and a touch of orange peel. On the palate, barrel char and lumberyard hit first, followed by soothing vanilla and toffee notes. Secondary notes run to red fruits, namely raspberries, plus heavy notes of cloves and mint chocolate. This is a quite complex whiskey, with a lengthy finish. There’s ample heat here, which is surprising given that the whiskey is barely 45% abv, but a couple of drops of water help it open up.

Looking back, I like the 21 a bit less now than I did upon last year. It is now showing a bit heavy on winey notes up front, though the lovely brown sugar character that cascades on the lightly woody finish are still working well. The 20 year old is still showing well, with stronger menthol notes and sizable wood character on the finish.

90.4 proof.

A- / $110 / diageo.com

Review: Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” 2016

Booker's Rye Bottle + Box Lifestyle Shot

It is easily the most notorious whiskey release of the year, but Booker Noe — otherwise known exclusively for bourbon — couldn’t have predicted such when he decided to lay down some rye barrels in 2003. (Noe died in 2004, but his name has lived on in his namesake bourbon.) Apparently he took the mashbill information on this whiskey — believed to be about 70% rye — with him.

Now, 13 years (and 1 month and 12 days) later — roughly double the time that Booker’s Bourbon spends in cask — Beam Suntory has turned out those barrels and bottled them at cask strength. It is the first and so far only rye whiskey released under the Booker’s name, a very well-aged, one-off release that is turning heads mainly because of one thing: A $300 price tag.

Rye is red hot right now, but this release now has observers wondering whether we’ve hit “Peak Rye.” Even cult-level rye bottlings like WhistlePig’s rare bottlings don’t command that kind of coin. You have to look at the tiny number of Sazerac 18 Year Old bottles out there if you want to find any competition in the price range.

Ah well, let’s see what’s inside these ritzy bottles, shall we?

The nose is intense, one of the richest and most powerful I’ve encountered in an American whiskey in a long time. Huge aromas of toffee, barrel char, and licorice are backed by notes of orange marmalade, ginger, and torched brown sugar. The nose just goes and goes — it’s one of those rare whiskeys that is intensely enjoyable without ever taking a sip.

And yet, sip we must, and said sip is glorious. At 68% alcohol, Booker’s Rye ought to be a blazer, but it’s surprisingly gentle and easily approachable even at full strength. The body is complex and soaked through with notes of molasses-dark caramel, flambeed banana, tons of cloves, and Port wine. While it isn’t required, water doesn’t hurt, coaxing out more up-front sweetness to endure on the finish. All told, it’s a dramatic, powerful, and beautiful whiskey, perfectly aged and well worth sampling should you manage to encounter one of the few bottles that were produced.

Have we arrived at Peak Rye? You better believe it. Does it matter? As long as the whiskey turns out this amazingly: No.

136.2 proof.

A / $300 / bookersbourbon.com

Review: Ol’ Major Bacon Flavored Bourbon

Ol' Major with Bacon

Another whiskey from Branded Spirits… this one with a major (and obvious) spin.

To start with the basics: This is real whiskey flavored with real bacon. The bourbon is an 88% corn mash made by Terressentia, the bacon if from an Oklahoma pork producer. The flavoring and bottling operation takes place in Nashville; this involves taking nitrous aerosolized bacon, injecting it into the bourbon, and then filtering it heavily to remove the solids.

Hands down this is the best bacon-flavored spirit I’ve encountered to date. Slightly meaty, slightly salty, the pure bacon essence grows stronger as it evolves in the glass. On the palate a maple syrup character is prominent, with those classic bacon notes building on the lingering, slightly smoky finish.

Consider me pleasantly surprised. While it sips surprisingly well, it’s definitely made for mixing — try it in an Old Fashioned or a Bloody Mary.

70 proof.

A- / $25 / brandedspiritsusa.com

Review: Michter’s US-1 Barrel Strength Straight Rye 2016

Michter's Barrel Strength Rye

Michter’s is back with its second barrel strength rye, which is a higher-proof rendition of its US-1 Single Barrel Rye. The interesting thing about this rye: It goes into barrel at just 103 proof. 125 entry proof is standard; 105 proof is used sometimes, but 103 is quite on the low side.

Hot on the nose, the whiskey kicks off with a bold grain profile and layers and layers of spice — both the sweet baked goods variety as well as some cayenne. Some nutty and honeycomb notes emerge given time in the glass, along with some oxidized wine aromas.

On the palate, the whiskey pushes its grain base heavily, again backing a heavy cereal character with ample spice. Rather oily, it layers on notes of rhubarb, currants, and some sour cherry, finishing on a surprisingly tart note.

Altogether it’s quite a different whiskey than Michter’s standard-issue US-1 Rye (and a somewhat better one), it doesn’t quite find the balance it needs to really raise the bar. That can be a challenge with rye, particularly relatively young expressions, as this one appears to be, but it’s at least a solid effort through and through that grows on you the more time you spend with it.

Note: These are single barrel releases and proof will reportedly vary between about 110.2 proof and 114.8 proof. As reviewed: Barrel #16D432, 111.8 proof.

B+ / $75 / michters.com

Review: Glen Oak Single Malt Whiskies – 10, 17, and 30 Years Old

Glen Oak

Today we’re looking at a collection of single malt Scotch whiskies from our friends at Branded Spirits. This whisky is bottled under the brand of Glen Oak, which isn’t an actual distillery — in fact, the various bottlings of Glen Oak are sourced from two different distilleries, in two different regions of the country, but all of them carry the Glen Oak name.

Thoughts on the full lineup follow.

Glen Oak 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from an undisclosed Highland distillery. This is a very fresh and lively single malt, offering pretty florals up front, grassy notes, and just a hint of smoke. On the back end, nougat and light honey notes make this incredibly easy to enjoy. The finish is light, fresh, and uncomplicated. 80 proof. A- / $50

Glen Oak 17 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from Bruichladdich, a very lightly peated expression. Wildly different from the 10 year old, with nutty and intense roasted barley notes, the brooding nose leads the way to light notes of iodine and tobacco. Quite bold and chewy. 80 proof. B+ / $99

Glen Oak 30 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from the same still as the 10 year old. The nose offers heavy florals, powerful notes of furniture polish, and a growing barrel influence. Very rich on the palate, it showcases a much different character here, comprising florals, light honey, and sandalwood notes. Complex and thoroughly enjoyable. 80 proof. A- / $500

brandedspiritsusa.com