(Note: these tasting impressions are posted 'live', meaning I am writing them as I taste the whiskies, many for the first time.)
Through good fortune, good hunting, and good friends, I've accumulated a small, but meaningful, bunch of Canadian whiskies -- both current and historical -- and had promised Gary (gillman) and Chris (Frodo), who contributed today's Alberta Premiums and the Forty Creek Three Grain (thanks again, guys!), some impressions.
They are, from left below, Alberta Springs NAS (1985), and today's Alberta Premium and Alberta Premium 25yo; Canadian Club (Hiram Walker, c. 1940); Grand Award 12yo (Hiram Walker, 1968); Schenley OFC 8yo (1956); Seagram's VO 6yo (1957); and today's Forty Creek Premium Three Grain:
Perhaps my most difficult preparation has been determining the tasting order, but I will begin with the three Albertas, then proceed ad hoc.
Alberta Premium, 80 proof: A bit of an acetone-ish nose; very light straw color; mild flavor, with not as much spirity-ness as the nose suggests; sweet spices after a bit on the tongue, but no really strong flavors present.
Alberta Premium 25 yo, 80 proof: Only slightly darker for all the extra years aging, the nose is considerably softer, with the slightest hint of some caramel from the wood; virtually no hint of alcohol until the finish, again with sweet spices supplemented by a bit of nuttiness.
Alberta Springs (1985), 90 proof: The label calls this 'long aged', but no number of years is given, and the color is the same light-golden hue as the others, so offers no real hint; the nose is much more fragrant, with some of the solvent-y scent of the younger Alberta, but also pine and resin; the resin-y pine holds up on the palate, too, with a more forward flavor -- again, little alcohol noted till the end -- than the others (probably the added proof).
Canadian Club (Hiram Walker), c. 1940: Interesting and unique to note that I can't find a proof anywhere on the label. To the best of my remembrance, when we opened it at the Sampler Gazebo in April, it was sealed by a 'Bottled In Bond' strip, but a Canadian one, so it's a mystery whether that referred to U.S. regulations or some Canadian ones. Anyway, this one shows a bit more color than the Albertas, but still only approaches yellow; the nose has a motif of old-attic cedar chest, followed by a pillow-soft palate suggesting overripe bananas; there's a wisp of smoke, too, on the finish. Nicely balanced, intriguing whisky.
Forty Creek Premium Three Grain: Ah, finally, some trace of color -- aged in toasted oak, this one has the gloss of a newly-minted Lincoln penny; there's also some significant aroma here, as the whisky is a combination of the traditional bourbon grains, rye, barley and corn ('maize') -- it's sort of a subtler version of the nose of Woodford Reserve's Four Grain, which likely speaks to its pot-still production; palate of orange muscat and light butterscotch, staying sweet through the finish. Pleasantly drinkable.
Schenley OFC 8yo, 86.8 proof (1956/1964): Darker than even the 25yo Alberta, still not quite as 'coppery' as the Three Grain; a promising trace of old-wood menthol in the nose, butterscotch, too; the vanilla creme/butterscotch comes through in spades on the palate, much like a late-'70s ND Old Taylor, though lightly; medium-warm finish that lingers.
Seagram's V.O. 6yo, 86.8 proof (1957): Interestingly darker than any of the previous, displaying a trace of red in the glass, but difficult to coax anything from the subtle nose (there's something there, just not prominently enough to identify); some old wood Lysol backs up a suggestion of the butterscotch found in some of the others in the taste; a 'clean' finish, but household cleaner 'clean', not minty.
Grand Award 12yo, 90.4 proof (Hiram Walker; 1968): This one shows some real color, equal to, say, a 6-8yo bourbon like Evan Williams Black; pine forest and butterscotch nose; the palate, though, is a letdown -- too soft and subtle, with a sense of the butteriness dissipating almost before you actually taste it; the finish is more like a flash, gone.
Compared to bourbons, of course, the Canadians' flavors can seem remarkably mild and subdued, but compared to each other, there are marked differences. The older ones, both in years aged and date bottled, seem to have bolder strokes, and strive to display some complexity. Still, it is the newer, relative youngster, the Forty Creek Three Grain, which I think is my favorite of the lot. It has more than a single identifiable taste content, and shows some characteristics of the still, the grains, AND the barrel-aging. It's a fine whisky.
Of course, what must follow a tasting to which Gary Gillman provided both sustenance (the whisky itself) and inspiration, is a vatting of the components, so here is a note on the combination of roughly equal parts of these eight Canadians -- call it the Grand Torontan, if you will, or the Crazy Canuck, if you must:
A fair amount of color (less than EWB, but more than Jim Beam White), with a nose of pine-y resin and a wisp of butterscotch vanilla; the palate is a bit confused up front, but sorts itself as tilted toward the pine side, with the candy creme suggested underneath; there's a trace of orange on the finish, which is medium in length, but with little heat.
All in all, an interesting series. The Canadians will never stand up to bourbon on the basis of bold flavor, but I start to see why their subtleties are valued in mixed drinks, for example -- they impart enough whisk(e)y flavor to become a presence in the blend, without blocking the notice of other components. And, a couple of them are quite good on their own, too.
Hmmm -- Just realized I posted this under "American" whiskey tastings. Which means, of course, I meant, "North American"...