In my view today, there are four or five really good Canadian whiskies. Of these, some are high-priced, e.g., Canadian Club 20 year old and Seagram's Limited Edition and Special Edition of Crown Royal. But two in the select group cost about $22.00 per bottle (about the lowest price, CAN currency, one can buy whisky for in Canada). One is Forty Creek's Barrel Select. Latest bottlings clearly are incorporating ever-older whiskies from the distillery's stocks. It is a good soft rich blend of whisky, more like a Johnnie Walker Gold of Canadian, i.e., soft, balanced, flavourful but not heavily assertive. Another that surprises me with its quality is an old stand-by to "rye" drinkers in Canada, Schenley OFC. I decided to try this based on Jim Murray's very high recommendation. In fact, it is very good, one of the best balanced whiskies I have ever tasted. When you nose it it offers no "raw alcohol" odour but instead a nose of dry cereal and oak which become much more evident in the taste. I assume it is a blend of higher and lower proof whiskies, some of which are evidently true rye whiskies, but the blend is skilfully made, it tastes rich-bodied with an evident influence of real rye whisky. That taste will be familiar to those who know the pot-stilled Lot 40 or the 18th century-style rye whiskey Anchor Distilling makes. Schenley OFC has a dry, grainy, fairly complex taste, quite different from bourbon because of, (i) the predominant rye influence, and (ii) the fact of not being aged or mostly aged in new charred wood (but rather reused wood, the Canadian norm, although sometimes new charred wood is used here). Schenley OFC has an old-fashioned taste, it tastes (and I mean this in the best sense) like it is made to a standard that hasn't changed in 50 years or more. A remarkable value indeed.
Schenley is a venerable name in both U.S. and Canadian distilling, and the modern Schenley OFC lives up to it. Schenley is today a Constellation brand, a stablemate (internationally) therefore of the renowned Barton bourbons. On the Barton site (www.bartonbrands.com) there is a description of Schenley OFC which indicates it is 8 years old and has won many awards. There is a neat colour picture from the air of the Schenley plant in Valleyfield, Quebec. The text indicates it was built in 1945 and still uses "old-fashioned open fermenters". Well, the quality shows in OFC. Note by the way the clear traces of the long narrow plots of land extending back from the river. This was the old French colonial method, land was plotted in riverfront blocks but through sale, or inheritence to the once famously large French-Canadian families, the plots were divided perpendicular to the river, to allow frontage, hence the narrow strips of land extending back from the rivers one still sees in Quebec and even in this picture despite the plant having been built over what was evidently once farmland. The very name Valleyfield indicates that British settlers had some influence in the area but I assume the French (at least here) came first because the land pattern seems to show it. In the English-settled parts of Canada, lands were layed out, and later sub-divided, in quite a different manner.