J.P. Wiser's Seasoned Oak - A continued celebration of Canadian blends

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J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak is part of the rare cask series, an annual unique release that comes out in time for Father’s Day. Last year’s release featured Dissertation, a play on Dr. Don Livermore’s PhD. With Seasoned Oak, this is continued celebration of barrel flavours and Canadian blending.

J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak was finished in oak barrels made from staves that spent four years outdoors (typically, oak used for barrels spends about a year outside). The whisky itself is matured for nineteen years total, with a year spent in these heavily seasoned barrels. While this isn’t the first time we’ve seen extra-seasoned oak used to make barrels, it’s the first that I know of in Canada. 

For most whiskies, coopers will season the oak in the outdoors from anywhere between six months to a few years. The longer the seasoning, the darker the spice notes on the whisky aging in those barrels. In Kentucky, the length of seasoning of the barrels helps define the whisky. Maker’s Mark uses extra-aged barrels, and with Maker's Mark 46, they use seasoned oak staves in their final stage of maturation. Colonel E.H. Taylor has had a few seasoned oak releases—the incredibly rare Cured Oak and the more recently released Seasoned Wood. Extra seasoned oak is rare; it adds time and expense to the whisky making process.

I called Dr. Don Livermore, master blender for Hiram-Walker, and got all the geeky details. This is not just J.P. Wiser’s 18 finished in seasoned barrels, but rather it’s the familiar higher rye formula that was used in J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old. “We’re not going to mess with the successful formula that’s proven to work,” Dr. Don told me.

It’s all in the blending. This is J.P. Wiser’s 18 column distilled corn blended with the same rye found in Lot No. 40 Cask Strength. As is traditional with Canadian whisky, these were aged separately, blended together, and finished in the seasoned oak barrels together for another year. You’ll get that on the palate, as well, with those deep caramel notes of the 18 combined with the wonderful high spice Lot 40 rye that’s been winning awards.

That year spent in the extra seasoned barrels is perfect. The added seasoning lends those dark baking spice notes to the drink. “The extra time the wood spends outdoors leaches out the tannins,” Dr. Don Livermore told me. It was bottled at the cheeky strength of 48% to represent the 48 months the oak spent outdoors maturing.

I was fortunate enough to get an early release bottle from Corby's. It didn't last long. As of this writing, it's done. It wasn't just me drinking this whisky, though. I went to a few parties, and did my own market research on how people were responding to Seasoned Oak. The results were interesting. Everyone loved the nose. A few watered down the whisky with drops to bring out the sweetness, while others loved it at the current bottled strength. Dr. Don tells me he’s enjoyed it over ice on a warm summer day. 

With the excitement over this whisky, this will be hard to get. It's only available at the LCBO

J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak
Hiram-Walker Distillery
Category: Canadian whisky, Seasoned Oak, Finished
Score: 91.5

Nose: Anise, cloves, other dark deep baking spices. The oak notes are crazy, almost distracting, and a beautiful compliment to the caramel sweetness often found in drinks like J.P. Wiser’s 18. This is like baked oranges, spiced, sweet, zesty. Possibly the perfect nose? It’s stunning. 

Palate: The baking spices come through beautifully. There’s some black tea, brown sugar, and fantastic dark baking spices. While I didn’t detect obvious smoke on the nose (some might, it’s subtle), the char is beautiful on the palate. The heat toward the back of the palate grabs the attention, and the caramel sweetness is complex. Let to sit in the class for ten minutes, it settles down, losing a little edge but gaining sweetness.

★ ★ ★ ★ Extraordinary, memorable, and original in any category considering its rareness and flavour profile.
Dr. Don Livermore and the team at Hiram-Walker are narrowing down the flavour profiles of today’s whisky drinker. This is, by flavour and ratio, a high-rye Canadian whisky with these beautiful elements of oak naturally seasoned in the outdoors for four years. Today’s whisky drinker loves complexity, and this has plenty of that. They love booziness, and this has plenty of that. They love their rye, and this has great elements of rye. And yes, it’s still at heart a Canadian whisky that celebrates the art and science of blending. Considering how rare seasoned oak is in the market, this is a good buy at just under $100 Canadian.