We talk a fair amount about the new small batch Canadians such as Lot 40, Dark Horse, Masterson's and Wiser Legacy.
I decided to revisit some of the older brands around to see how they shape up.
I chose Royal Reserve, from Corby (this is made at Hiram Walker's original plant in Windsor, ON now owned by Pernod Ricard. I think Corby is partly owned by the latter and part is public). Corby was previously independent and its whiskies represented a certain style, continued I believe by PR since they seem quite different to Canadian Club. I was surprised how good this is, very balanced with a deep mildly spicy and woody flavour. It has a slight caramel note at the end which may indicate an addition of caramel to sweeten, hard to say, but if something is added it is done subtly. There is yes a vodka-like edge to it but overall it is an excellent product.
Next, Alberta Premium, which the maker (Alberta Distillers owned by Beam Global) is taking increasing pains to point out is traditional and made from 100% rye. I even saw an ad in a local paper where the distiller is quoted that corn is not used in the recipe as many other makers use. Well, it depends what you mean by traditional I guess, I'm not sure there was ever a time when all Canadian whisky was distilled 100% from rye, but anyway, this whisky cuts a definite swath. It has a spicy rye note quite evidently from the component in there distilled at a low proof. It is less soft and smooth then the other whisky but very pleasant.
I have a feeling that the "whisky culture" developed in the last 10 years, due in no small part to SB IMO, has had some influence on these products. I think they are better than 10 years ago, less neutral-tasting, and better balanced for neat sipping even if typically they are used as mixers. Same thing with the average good quality bourbon brands, they taste like a panel has gone over them rather than just being batched to meet preset technical criteria.
These are excellent products and very well priced. I am not sure the small batch products are better despite their much higher cost and in some cases the reverse is true IMO.