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  1. #1
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    Canadian Whisky at 100 proof and higher

    I decided to share this evening with some high octane Canadians. I started with C.C. 100, followed by Black Velvet 102, then Hirsch 12yo Single Cask 53.1%, and wrapped up with Century Reserve 21 120 proof. There is something special about high proof spirits. Somehow it seems purer, more enticing. Many of us eagerly seek out cask strength Single Malt Scotch and BIB or high proof Bourbon. Why should Canadian whisky be left out of the party?

    Anyone who thinks Canadian Whisky is anemic, should try these four back to back. They share the subdued bouquet common for Canadian, but uncommon for CS bottlings. There is also the oomph on the palate and the long finish, but there the similarity ends.

    The CC 100 has the balance between grains and sweetness and bitterness with which I associate the brand, but with an extra dose of flavour.

    The BV102 includes a strong note of sweet maple within it's intense full flavours.

    The Hirsch 12 has the most beguiling nose of the four with complex notes in fine harmony. On the palate it begins with a pleasant cereal taste that evolves into a grainy sweetness then a full finish.

    The Century Reserve 21 120 with only a few drops of water has a spirity nose of grain alcohol, lighter than I expected. Different from other Canadians, but vaguely like BPPR13 in over all aroma, but without the complex interplay of fruit and grain notes. Palate entry is slightly bitter with some heat. Mid-palate has sweet grain with a slight sour note. Somewhat like CC100. The wood is well balanced by the proof hiding some of those 21 years. The palate evolves nicely. Moderate cereally finish. Although obviously a high proof, I would not have guessed this to be 120 if tasted blind. With a healthy dose of water nose begins with a substantial bourbon note, then light spice in the background that evolves into a rye-like aroma (a bit like Lot 40). The mid-palate has balanced cereal sweetness with a little spicy rye and slight dryness near the end. Mouthfeel is pleasantly full even though diluted. The finish is smooth and well rounded with sweet grains--just as long diluted. This is certainly a very good whiskey. My expectations were quite high (CR, 21, CS, etc.), so my first impressions were a little disappointing. It doesn't exhibit the complexity that would make it "the" top Canadian Whiskey, but it does evolve nicely over time and with water.

    Why weren't Bush Pilot's or Century Reserve 15 available at cask strength?

  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Re: Canadian Whisky at 100 proof and higher

    Excellent notes, thanks. Of these, I have seen only the CC 100 (in Canada) and not tried any of them. Any indication of the sourcing for the Hirsch?

    A hallmark of Canadian whisky originally may have been a high proof. In the 1800's I believe the average proof of our whisky was higher than now. By being sold in Canada today at a standard 80 proof, something of the original character may have been lost.

    I think the whole family of rectified/highly blended spirits used to be sold at a much higher proof than today. As an example, I cite even the triple pot-distilled Lowland Scotch whiskies which, according to the classic 1911 edition of Britanica, were sold at much higher proof in the 1800's than Highland malts. However by 1911 they were approaching these in alcohol level and taste.

    Higher proof was a characteristic of the newer whiskies vs. the flavourous but lower proof classic straight and malt whisky styles. Maybe the latter were sold at 95-110 proof whereas the newer styles were a few points at least above. There is a Polish Pure Spirit still sold today known for very high proof, for example, I think around 70% abv. Some rums were and are sold very strong (the overproof types, e.g. Wray and Nephew's of Jamaica). Notoriously absinthe (based on pure spirit) was sold very strong too. Some of these were let down with water for retail sale, but probably the rectified/blended/triple pot-distilled group were sold at an average proof higher than straight-type whisky (e.g. the old ads in the U.S. selling "extra rectified spirits" may have been for a kind of Polish Pure Spirit). The high proof may have led to the bad reputation of some whisky of the time ("firewater"); on the other hand, high proof may have enhanced the taste of some quality rectified or highly blended spirits. Somehow, ethanol can have its "own" taste, pure as it is, which may account for vodka drinkers preferring certain brands to others, for example...

    Of course, straight whiskey can come uncut at a high proof too (e.g. famously the George T. Stagg). But my belief is that by definition in the Trade (quaint late 1800's expression) rectified and blended spirits generally were sold overproof because they were made that way to begin with.

    Today, except for "experimental" purposes, I think any spirit should be diluted to drinking proof (80-100 proof and often less where mixed with water, ice, etc.). Somehow results seem to improve where the taster adds his or her own water as opposed to the distillery having done so. Likely the reason is that the high proof barrels are better to start with (often the best is selected for these bottlings). Also, some are single cask whiskies with the character and distinctiveness that usually implies.

    Interesting that these high proof Canadian whiskies are not available for purchase in Canada (I have seen some at our duty-free stores and the CC 100 at the LCBO, but that's about it). As in the case of the WT 12 and certain other American whiskies, it seems distillers are convinced these will appeal only to export markets..

    Gary






  3. #3
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    Re: Canadian Whisky at 100 proof and higher

    I have not heard anything about a possible source for the Hirsch. The flavor profile is certainly distinct from the other single cask Canadians I've tried (Bush Pilot's Private Reserve 13yo, Century Reserve 13 & 15yo)

 

 

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