Gooderham & Worts 4 Grain - Canadian Tradition & Innovation In One Bottle

Gooderham & Worts 4 Grain Whisky
Corby Spirit & Wine
Hiram-Walker Distillery
Taste Score: 92
Category: Canadian Four Grain Whisky, NAS
Whisky Cabinet Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆

In 1900, Gooderham & Worts was the largest distillery in the world. It was located in what is now Toronto’s historic Distillery District. The company was started by James Worts, a Englishman that opened up a prominent windmill in Canada. He went into business with his brother-in-law, William Gooderham.

When grain surpluses emerged in the 1800s, Gooderham & Worts started making whisky from the excess grain. Distilling whisky eventually became a core part of their business, though the downturn in whisky production at the passing of the Ontario Temperance Act of 1916 eventually led to the sale of the distillery to Hiram Walker. The distillery eventually became part of Corby Distillery, the name behind such products as Wiser’s and Lot No. 40.

I spoke to Dr. Don Livermore, Corby’s Master Blender, about the re-release of this historic Canadian product. As Don said, he felt the Gooderham & Worts family would have distilled all sorts of grains depending on what was left-over for the season. That was the reasoning for using 4 different grains in the production of Gooderham & Worts whisky.

While using 4 grains adds complexity to a whisky, the processing methods underneath really demonstrate the strength in the innovation in the Canadian whisky industry. There are, essentially, 7 different variations of whisky that are carefully blended to make Gooderham & Worts. It’s evident in every aspect of the drink, from the nose to the taste, to the finish.

Pot Still vs Column Still

Pot still whisky is the old way of making whisky, and the predominant icon of the single malt scotch industry. These beautiful copper pots are highly inefficient and they make for whisky with the most grain flavour. Pot still whisky brings out the grain characteristics, whether that be rye, malted barley, corn, or wheat.

Column stills, especially in Canadian whisky, are intended to efficiently distill whisky. This is the same technology used to refine crude oil into gasoline. While Americans primarily use column stills, there are regulations that keep the efficiency low. In Canada, no such regulations exist. Column still whisky is about efficiently turning fermented beer product into whisky.

Four Grain whisky uses whisky that’s pot distilled and column distilled from rye, wheat, and barley for a total of six variations of whisky. There’s an added seventh whisky of neutral corn column distilled product. 90% of the whisky is aged in new oak, and 10% is aged in reused barrels. This is the sort of innovation that would be impossible in the US because it would never qualify as a bourbon or rye.

Although Four Grains Are Used, This is Rye Forward

While mash bills (or recipes) are part of the regular conversation in the United States, Dr. Don Livermore doesn’t talk about mash bills for his Canadian whisky. The truth is, when you age all your grains separately, and use both column and pot still distillation, the ratios don’t matter. If a whisky made of rye was distilled in a column still at a high efficiency, it would simply takes like neutral whisky. You could have a 100% rye with almost no rye characteristics.

In that way, playing with both pot and column still whisky offers the flexibility of bringing out lighter and heavier flavours. That’s the brilliance behind Gooderham & Worts 4 Grain Whisky.

Dr. Don Livermore did reveal that rye flavours work best in new oak, because the vanilla and toffee notes play nicely with the spicy notes of the rye. Furthermore, this whisky is bottled at 44.4% ABV, partially because it’s a good play on the 4 grains but also because the higher alcohol strength brings out grainier and woodier characteristics.

So How Does it Taste?

It’s a modern whisky. It’s not smooth and polite. It’s rich, complex, and it changes in the glass. When Gooderham & Worts is first poured, the caramel notes really come through from nose to palate. It’s a sweet drink at first pour, perhaps almost overpoweringly sweet.

However, give this whisky a little bit of time. The floral notes from the rye come through on the nose, lots of rich caramel, a bit of freshly ground peppery spice. On the palate, it’s starts with warm caramel notes and quickly moves through the peppery spice promised on the nose. There’s a dusty cereal note to it throughout. The corn hollows out the middle part of the taste, and you think you’re done, but than the peppery and lime zesty notes push you through to the finish. Hints of bitter dark chocolate are noticeable. Though that caramel is there throughout, on the finish it’s on the dryer side, with distant dried fruits. When “chewing” the whisky, you’ll get some of the nuttiness from the malted barley and more of these wonderful cereal flavours.

Gooderham & Worts 4 Grain takes advantage of the best of Canadian whisky making traditions. It highlights the innovation possible in the Canadian whisky industry that simply couldn’t happen anywhere else in the world. Combine that with a beautiful label, and the honouring of true Canadian whisky icons, and you have a wonderful product.

It’s available for $44.90 at the LCBO, with the potential for US distribution planned for later next year. 

Whisky Cabinet Rating Explained:

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Not recommended
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ Good whisky, but not a ‘must-have’
★ ★ ☆ ☆ Your great regular rotation whisky that'll come and go
★ ★ ★ ☆ Excellent, a near must-have
★ ★ ★ ★ Extraordinary, memorable, and original