JP Wiser’s Last Barrels Special LCBO Release
Taste Score: 92
Category: Canadian Whisky
Whisky Cabinet Score: ★ ★ ★ ☆
Last Barrels represents Canada's unintended nudge into bourbon territory, all from an experiment that started back in 2001. At that time Hiram Walker's master distiller, Jim Stanski, was promoted into management. Before leaving his post, Jim started an experiment from an old recipe J.P. Wiser used dating back to 1869.
The recipe called for a whisky made in the style of bourbon. While Canada and the United States share a history of whisky making, the two industries diverged. Bourbon is matured in only new oak barrels, with a mash recipe that blends all the grains together before fermentation (often corn, rye, and malted barley). Canadian whisky often ferments, distills, and barrels grains separately and blends them before bottling. Canada also tends to mature whisky in both new and re-used barrels.
Jim Stanski had a unique stumbling block attempting to make a bourbon-like Canadian whisky. He needed a sour mash. In the United States, bourbons use part of the last mash to start their next fermentation cycle. In Canada, the fermenters are cleaned solid each time. Jim Stanski purchased milk and let it sour in the lab, and used that for the sour mash. This technique is credited for some of the flavour found in the whisky.
To learn more about sour and sweet mash, listen to The Whisky Topic Podcast episode 64. While the fermentation and distillation of this whisky was done in a traditional bourbon-like fashion, Last Barrels whisky is completely aged in once-previously used barrels. The whisky was aged for fourteen years. This, along with some climate factors, brings in an interesting flavor profile.
Yeah, Yeah, History, So What About the Whisky?
In a world of marketing ploys, there are always the skeptics that wonder if these last barrels are a gimmick. We've been assured these are the only barrels that'll be bottled as part of this series. The LCBO purchased 2000 cases as a special-release, and they are only being sold by the LCBO.
J.P. Wiser's Last Barrels is a beautiful whisky. It's a rare find offering incredible flavors at just 45% ABV. Fourteen years of maturation helps with that. The mash recipe is 80% corn, 11% rye, and 9% malted barley. It rivals any of my favorites in the category of low-proof bourbons including Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old Single Barrel and W.L. Weller 12.
Priced at $65 Canadian, it's a whisky that comes with value. Stock-up. Once it's gone, it's gone, but here's hoping that more bourbon-like offerings from Canada. It's not because we need more bourbon in the world, but it is because the freedom to use both new and reuse oak barrels brings about a distinct profile. As does the Canadian climate.
Nose: Freshly baked bread, boozy cherries, dried fruits, sweet red apples, some butterscotch, sawdust and caramel.
Palate: A wonderful balance of caramel sweetness, brown sugar, pepper, cinnamon spice, and brown butter. The finish falls toward those latter flavors (cinnamon spice, butter, brown sugar), with dark chocolate. It's a light drink on the palate, but rich in flavor, and long on finish. So many oak flavors, but because there's not that big oak-bomb hit of caramel, there are lighter (but still rich) notes. The cinnamon spice, brown sugar and melted butter especially come through.
Conclusion: There are so few North American whiskies that are bottled at 45% ABV that I truly adore; Russell's Reserve 10 Year Old Single Barrel, W.L. Weller 12 (and really, most Wellers), Blanton's and perhaps a few others. It's rare to have a whisky that's booming with flavor and pleasantly light. It's not perfect, otherwise I'd have scored it higher, but it's unique in a flavor category. In this case, the flavor comes from aging in over fourteen years in re-used barrels. With re-used barrels the oaky notes subdued in favor of lighter rich flavors. This was a one-of experiment, but I'd love to see more products like this come out of Canada.
*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