Lot No. 40 Cask Strength is Canada’s version of George T. Stagg in rye format—it’s a powerhouse rye with plenty of peppery notes, deep new oak caramel flavours, and a wallop of herbal notes, orange citrus, and other complex flavours.
Or at least, it was. Like George T. Stagg, Corby’s releases Lot No. 40 at Cask Strength annually. Each year it’s a little different. The first year, it was a twelve year old release. The second year, it was aged for eleven years. This year, it comes with a no-age statement variety and it’s been finished in brand new French Oak casks. What are we to make of it?
I did my annual two-hundred mile pilgrimage to Hiram-Walker distillery to meet with Dr. Don Livermore. We did what we do every year; start with whisky at 10am (speaking for myself, Dr. Don doesn’t drink in the mornings). I really enjoyed the Lot 40 CS French Oak sample from last year, the flavours were unique, so I was looking forward to tasting the final product.
On first nosing, though, that familiar floral Lot 40 nose was missing. I poured a few drops of water. I let it sit. I swirled the glass. I added a few more drops of water. I did everything I don’t usually do to find a hint of something familiar. There was nothing. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a good bouquet. It’s terrific. But it’s also so unfamiliar I found it disjointed considering the label.
It noses more like a rich, plentifully sweet, luscious cognac more than a whisky. It’s reminiscent of banana pancakes with maple syrup poured atop, with a touch of blueberries. It’s not a caramel nose, it’s far beyond that on the sweetness level. These are terrific tasting notes, especially for a cask strength whisky, but is it Lot 40?
On the palate it’s sweet, but spicy, and rich. It tastes more familiar with the notes I’d find in a Canadian whisky, but not necessarily in a strong rye. The cask influence is heavy, with plenty of oak spice and some buttery dryness toward the finish. The brand new French Oak casks are extremely influential on the nose, less-so on the palate, but beyond the peppery spice (which could have come from the barrels or the rye) it doesn’t taste much like what I’d consider a rye. Even older ryes taste like a rye, even when the cask influence has overpowered the grain. This doesn’t taste like that.
Finishing younger (compared to previous years) Lot 40 Cask Strength in French Oak barrels is a risky play. Corby’s has gotten to where they are by investing in riskier products no one else in the industry was focused on. Lot 40 at Cask Strength was a game changer in Canadian whisky, but to add it as part of a broader Northern Border Collection of rare releases was truly brilliant.
And yet, in the spirit of the whisky, is this even Lot 40? Whether you drink Lot 40 at its regular proof, or any of the previous cask strength variations, you’re getting this beautifully harnessed floral rye note on the nose, orange citrus and spice on the palate, and complex herbal notes (licorice, black tea, all that good stuff) that lingers.
As an interesting pour of Cask Strength whisky, I’m happy to enjoy this. As Lot No 40 Cask Strength, I think it’s veered too far away from the spirit of the product.
There are going to be a lot of opinions about this year’s release, and people that love sweet and syrupy finishes might find a new best friend. But that won’t be me. I’ll be wishing for the Lot 40 Cask strength of the first two years.
While I don’t have any insight to next year’s release, this might be the direction Corby’s is going in the immediate future. I tasted some terrific Lot 40 Cask Strength finishes, including a heavenly Madeira cask finish. Corby’s will continue to innovate, and I’m looking forward to tasting what’s next.
Am I being too persnickety because it’s not “lot 40” enough? Do my concerns matter in the great scheme of things? I can’t wait to hear what others think when the 2019 Northern Border Collection is released into major markets.
Lot No 40 Cask Strength 2019 Edition - French Oak Finish
Category: 100% Rye, Cask Strength, French Oak Finish, NAS
Nose: Reminds me of pancake batter, with some sort of fruit (caramalized banana/banana oscar) mixed in. Cereal note, a little, but that’s not quite it. Touch of citrus, fading. Apple candy, green chewy candy type note, some toffee notes. Plenty of brown sugar, verging on maple syrup sweetness.
Palate: Nice biting spice, similar apple toffee like note, lots of rye spice that’s thick and rich. Subtler notes are brown sugar, caramel hard candy, plenty of spices (including baking spice), heavy licorice, black tea, lots of butter, and spicy peppery rye. Notes of cloves and cardamom are nice. There’s a nice cotton candy note as well. The finish is more reminiscent of Lot 40, with a softer peppery spice riding a wave of buttery fatness and orange zest.
Conclusion: An explosive cask strength pour of Canadian whisky that’ll be a point of contention. Has the 2019 release veered too far from previous years? As a whisky, I enjoyed this release, but it also didn’t entirely fit for me either. The sweet notes didn’t have the heft of mouthfeel to carry them through. The peppery notes from the oak and rye seemed to be at odds, not quite at the same level. I like a progression of flavour from front to the back of the palate, but from that perspective, the flavours felt hurried (so hard to express this, but that’s the best I could come up with). I’ll happily buy a bottle this year, and maybe my opinion will change with it in the long-term, but for now I remain wishful of previous vintages. I am curious to hear what others think of it though!
Disclaimer: Thank you to Corby’s for providing me a sample of this whisky, and hosting me at Windsor for my tasting.