View Full Version : Canadians I'd like to taste.
One characteristic of Canadian whisky that distinguishes it from Bourbon is the practice of blending.
Blending is done by taking a "base" whisky which will form the bulk of the blend and improving it through the addition of small amounts of blending stock. It is this blending stock that I wish someone would release. There have to be some pretty flavorful whiskies in there. Of course, this exactly describes the situation in scotch whiskey before the first single malts came on the market. One would think someone in Canada would see the connection and figure out that it might be a good business proposition to release some Canadian "singles."
Why haven't they? Maybe the whiskies really suck. I can't think of another explanation.
The only Canadian whiskey I have tried and actually liked was the Hirsch Selection Single Cask Canadian Whiskey which was 12 years old and 106.2 proof. As I remember it, it was very smooth and had a nice flavor profile that I actually enjoyed drinking...
Lot 40 is the single example, Chuck. It is used by Allied Domecq, I understand, to flavour their CC whisky. AD also uses an unmalted rye whiskey in CC - Lot 40 is all-malted rye to my knowledge - so far unreleased as a separate unit.
The flavouring whiskies include malt/barley whiskies (likely Irish-type), corn whiskies (likely Bourbon-type) and the aforesaid rye whiskies.
They don't release them separately, in my view, not because they aren't good, but simply the tradition of selling straight whisky here has long been lost. Still, Lot 40 was a rare foray into the field - too bad it is a relatively indifferent whisky. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/frown.gif
I've not studied Canadian mashbills at all and Lot 40 is the only one I have. (Of course I've tasted Windsor and CC in the past.)
My Dad insists he was told when he became diabetic that if he drank any whiskey he should drink Canadian because the primary grain was wheat, not corn. I told him I could not believe that. So... what's the mashbill?
Well, it varies. Whisky in Alberta is made from rye, unmalted rye which is converted by addition of enzymes. It is distilled to a very high proof, around 94% abv., but intentionally is left to have some residual flavour. As far as I know, the flavouring whiskies (straight-type) used in Eastern Canada are dispensed with in Alberta - maybe I am wrong. In the East, cooked corn is the main grain used for the mash and either enzyme addition or barley malt is used to convert it. Wheat can be used in whole or in part to form the mash for the base. The important thing though is not the grain used to make the base whisky, but rather the flavouring whiskies used - where they are used. Anyone can make an approximation of Canadian whisky - take a good Polish rye vodka, and then add 10% each of Lot 40 and Pikesville Supreme Straight Rye Whiskey. The Canadians blend much more than that to make a single brand (both as to the base and flavouring whiskies), and their base whisky (as in Scotland) is aged to a tinted spirit, but the idea is the same.
Interestingly graphic representation but a good illustration.
Put another way, a blend is bad whiskey made palatable through the addition of some good whiskey.
The point, though, in answer to the question is that there is no "mashbill" in the sense that we normally understand it. Instead they make a wheat whiskey, they make a rye whiskey, they make a malt/barley whiskey, they make a corn whiskey. They make and age them separately, then blend them for bottling.
Although I don't know this to be the case, I am extrapolating from what I do know and guessing that in the West the blending stock is older examples of the same whiskey, while in the East the blending stock might be one or several different kinds of whiskey (i.e., wheat, rye, malt, etc.)
There is no mashbill as such because different grains, as in Scotland, can be used to make the base whisky in Canada. Most often corn is used, again as in Scotland for its grain whisky. It does not matter really what grain is used (as long as it is grain, not molasses or potatos), because the whisky made - I am talking about the base - is distilled to about 95% abv. That whisky is aged for years and blended with other aged whiskies to get some complexity. The flavouring whiskies added in the East, at least, to such aged blended grain whisky are, in contrast, single grain whiskies (except perhaps for barley malt to convert): these as we have said include aged corn, wheat, rye and barley whiskies. The key thing about these latter, apart from their single grain character, is that they are like straight whiskeys in that distilled to a much lower proof than the base whiskies to which they are added. So, CC is made, I understand, by adding to a high-proof base both malted and unmalted (in effect) straight rye whiskey. Other Canadian blended whiskies are made by blending into the the base some aged corn whiskey (a type of Bourbon) and/or some barley whisky, and the combinations are endless as can be seen. In Alberta, I believe they blend just from the high proof aged base whisky (different years combined as Chuck suggested), it isn't a base in that case because I think they don't add the straight-type rye or corn whisky to these blends. Allied Domecq and the former Seagrams plants do however still use the traditional flavouring whiskies, which into the late 1940's were sold on their own too - as straight rye or straight bourbon. Old Seagram ads, for their Pedigree line up, clearly show this, they sold 100 proof straight rye and bourbon. Later they still made these but only to add to their high proof whisky to give flavour.
Now, at least one Canadian whisky maker makes a craft-style whisky where it blends and then bottles the said barley, corn and rye whiskies. I forget the name of the brand that does this, the maker is Kittling Ridge I am quite sure, and the bottles come with a leaflet explaining how this is done. In this case, one would expect a rich palate if in fact the constituent whiskies were all straight-type (distilled to maximum 160 proof and aged in wood). In fact, that whisky is rather mild-tasting. I believe in that case, the "single grain" whiskies are not flavouring whiskeys as understood in Allied Domecq or Seagram's plants, but likely are simply high proof whisky albeit made from single grains (which indeed will make some flavour difference to that extent). If the constituents are true straight type whisky, they are aged and combined to give a light palate. That product is fairly unique though, I think all other Canadian whiskies are made as earlier discussed above, i.e., either they are blends of aged high-proof grain spirit (with the grain used in mashing not highly significant) or the latter with true straight-type whisky added to give more flavour. It is as if, in the latter case, someone 100 years said, "I'll use the new Scots-type grain whisky as my base and spice it with some real rye and/or real bourbon and/or single malt whisky" - in effect that is my understanding of how Hiram Walker devised the famous CC brand, except he used only rye whiskies to add the spicing (and still to this day that is how CC is made). CC 12 year old is in fact very good, it is a fine example of the Canadian blenders art. So is Crown Royal, a fairly complex-tasting whisky.
Maybe a better way (than I suggested earlier) to make a "personalised" Canadian blend as good or better than those is to take a glass of, say, Black Velvet or Alberta Premium and add dashes of two or three straight ryes, or say a dash each of bourbon and a non-peated single malt. The results will often be extremely good. Most of my information by the way on how Canadian whisky is made is from books by Michael Jackson and Jim Murray. I have also read technical accounts of whisky making as currently applied in Alberta. I welcome any other information on Canadian whisky making and blending techniques, which seem, in comparison to Bourbon manufacture, not all that well publicised or understood.
They did. It's Bush Pilot 13y Single Cask Reserve, and it's wonderful -- perhaps the best Canadian ever in the opinion of many. You may still find it in Chicago, look for small independent liquor stores. It's no longer made, collectors may be taking what's left.
A new Canadian Club 15 years old is just out on the shelves of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. A few years ago a 15 year old CC was marketed in a brown historic bottle reproduction. This new package, and I think the whisky, are different. The bottle is decanter-style, clear glass with beveled edges, and has a metallic knob closure. The price is in the mid $30 (CAN) range.
This 15 year old strikes me as CC's best-ever blend. The CC 12 year old has less fullness and depth in comparison. The CC 10 year old Reserve likewise doesn't attain to the lush body and full taste of the 15 year old, nor does the 100 proof CC. The 15 year old is very Canadian in palate (oak-influenced, butterscotch caramel-like with rye tangs) but is much bigger in palate than almost any other Canadian whisky I know. It is as good I think as Canadian whisky can get (which is pretty good!). It resembles to a degree Century's 15 year old but has more finesse in my view. It is 80 proof and drinks very well neat. The straight rye-type flavouring whisky in there is evident. I am quite sure it contains some aged Lot 40-type whisky (CC's straight-type rye, absent from the shelves for some time now). I tasted it next to my own Canadian whisky blends; these are combos of various commercial Canadian whiskies and different U.S. straight ryes. The CC 15 year old more than gives mine a run for the money and offers a stylishness mine don't have. Mine are more ... robust, is a good word. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
I have had doubts about the willingness of the Canadian majors to introduce characterful new products but this one is a winner and (in comparative terms) the price is a steal..
I just saw the CC 15yo in a decorative tin here in Houston for around $15. Didn't buy one (they had a lot of it). But after reading your review, I can't go wrong for the price. When I try it, I'll respond with my impressions.
I believe the one you mention that blends all straight whiskies from Kittling Ridge is Forty Creek. I just tried a mini of Forty Ridge Barrel Select. Being much more used to bourbon, my first impressions were that it was light, subtle and uninspired. I could only discern one stand-out flavor-- sherry. I wondered if they did some aging in used sherry casks, which it sounds like they do from their website:
Forty Creek Website (http://www.fortycreekwhisky.com/).
The site description makes it seem more interesting than it was to taste. They use typical bourbon grains (corn, rye, barley), but as Chuck said, distill and age them separately. Apparently, they use different ages and different chars of barrels for each grain. You can't get a straight answer from them on age other than the minimum for Canadian whisky is 3 years and they quote that, "Some of these whiskies will be in the barrel for ten years." Again, like most Canadians, it's probably a blend of many different ages, and probably between 3 and 10 years. They claim to use only pot stills in the distilling.
The process seems solid to me. However, I wasn't wow-ed by the product. I guess a sherry-tasting outcome should not be too unexpected from a first-generation distiller who had spent 30 years as a winemaker.
I agree fully. The hallmark of Canadian taste in whisky seems to be lightness and mildness, even with such a quality producer. Within the full range of Canadian whisky you get a certain amount of taste difference but in relation to bourbon almost all Canadian whiskies seem rather bland..
I respect what Hall is trying to do with Forty Creek, trying to make something interesting while staying true to the Canadian type. You have to judge Canadians on their own terms and not try to compare them to bourbons. My first impression of both expressions was a shrug, but with a little careful tasting I found several things to like. The Three Grain is especially interesting. It is candy-sweet but with a hint of white dog in the background. They won't make anyone swear off Stagg, but they beat the 'brown vodka' rap.
Thanks to you both for bringing up these points. I guess I'm struggling with the style of Canadians as much as this brand. My notes should have the following disclaimer:
1. I have little experience with Canadian whisky.
2. I haven't found one I really love.
3. This has the most promise of what I've tried.
That said, I'm no expert on sc*tch or Irish whiskey either, but quickly found ones I've liked. I also have to keep in mind something I left out of my above notes-- the proof. I can't help thinking of my lack-luster opinions of 80 proof bourbons, and it might mean I'd feel the same about other whisk(e)y. Maybe a higher proof some of the subtlety of a light whisky. Maybe the Canadians need a special product for some of us Americans that ain't too big on subtlety. (Just kidding.) Canadians know that I don't know what I'm talking a-boot when it comes to their native product, so I'll stop before I dig a deeper trench...
To get an idea of what Canadian blended whisky was like 50 years ago, I'd buy Pikesville or Wild Turkey rye and add an ounce or a bit more to the full bottle. Rye is so pungent it stiffens the blend quite a bit. I mentioned this practice of mine to Craig Beam and after emitting a cloud of fragrant cigar smoke, he said, "makes sense". http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
Thanks, Gary. I'll have to try that. That is the first instance of "home blending" that sounds feasible and appealing to me.
Well, it makes sense since that's what the distillers here do - add some straight whiskey to the light (high proof) base. And originally (and still to an extent) they added rye, not bourbon. You're just making a more luxurious blend by adding a bit more rye to the bottle. I like doing it with Crown Royal, the results are really good. I tasted this against a friend's Crown Royal he found in his late parents' liquor cabinet dating from the 1960's. The two bottles were very similar in taste (really).
Recently I laid in a couple of Canadian whiskies to check their current taste profiles. Here's a capsule report:
Seagram's '83: this staple of frat and suburban house parties is considered junior to Seagram's VO and Crown Royal yet actually is a nice dram of whisky. It has a deep nose of oak and light whisky. No charred flavours appear, the body is full and there is a whisky flavour evident through the oak albeit restrained: this is not brown vodka. I liked the fact the whisky did not have a "doctor's office" smell of alcohol.
Canadian Club 10 years old: CC comes in the regular issue (6 or so years old), 10 years old, 12 years old, and even 15 years. The 10 is a good expression of the style: crisp, lightly caramel, oaky but again not charred. This one did have a bit of neutral spirits odor about it, and in this sense, the Seagram's '83 was superior. But again this is whisky that is blended, not pronounced in taste, reflecting different influences in its character, one which will appeal to many. And it mixes very well, perhaps its main attribute.
Crown Royal: I have found this whisky changeable over the years and this particular sample did not shine. The whisky seemed not well-knitted, there was a hint of GNS-type nose, and flinty/spirity flavours that didn't have the sonorous brandy-like signature I recalled in CR in the past. Traditionally CR is a smooth, complex blend informed by a light backbone of straight whisky: both bourbon and straight rye were (are?) used to stiffen the blend. Maybe I should try Crown Royal Limited Edition or Crown Royal Special Reserve to get the palate I recall from regular CR, or maybe I just hit a dull bottle (it happens).
Canadian whisky doesn't change much overall as a style. It is remarkably still what it was, namely a light spirit whose character is mainly influenced by refill charred casks so that it acquires a deeper, more concentrated taste than when young. In the past, so-called flavoring whiskies (straight rye in particular) added character to Canadian whisky but I wonder if very much of it is added today. Spirit caramel clearly was and is added to some Canadians and this seemed evident in some of the whiskies mentioned above.
My best use for these was to blend them further by adding real bourbon or rye: I tried this using Van Winkle rye (the later-numbered, more astringent of the two I bought recently) in one instance and Buffalo Trace in another. I got an excellent whisky drink from 2:1 Seagram's '83 to Van Winkle rye. 1:1 was unbalanced but 2:1 worked just fine. These "super-blends" are not straight whiskey of course but, speaking of food and whisky combinations, I could see drinking these with certain foods where straight whiskey alone might be too much. Certain Chinese cuisines would go nicely with the Seagram's '83/Van Winkle combination, perhaps with a touch of soda added. Maybe a fry-up of eggs and Ontario peameal bacon would too, hmm, that could be a plan for Sunday brunch..
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