J.P. Wiser's Union 52 is in an odd flavor category in the same way that it's an odd blend of whisky. This is a blend of 15 year old Canadian whisky and extremely old peated single malt scotch that's been maturing in Canada since the 1964. Old smoky scotch meets Canadian whisky. The blend is ridiculous, and it works.
Why would Canada have barrels of scotch hanging around? Back in the "old days" it wasn't uncommon for Canadians to bottle their own single malt scotch. They'd do this by buying barrels of scotch from Scotland and maturing them for a time in Canada. The practice largely fell out-of-favor. Left-over at the J.P. Wiser's warehouse, though, were 18 barrels of this old Highland Single Malt Scotch ready for a creative touch.
Dr. Don Livermore is the master blender behind J.P. Wiser's (Listen to Ep 66 of The Whisky Topic to hear our interview with him). He started blending this old scotch with different ages of Canadian whisky at different ratios. Union 52 came about when Dr. Don Livermore combined 15 year old Canadian whisky (96%) with all the barrels of this peated single malt scotch (the remaining 4%). That scotch, by the way, is fifty-two years old.
It's unlikely you'll taste anything quite like this whisky, and it's only being sold by British Columbia's liquor store. I managed to purchase a bottle via a mutual friend that was traveling to Ontario. My thoughts on this whisky are complicated.
To truly enjoy Union 52, one must let the whisky rest. It evolves in the glass. It's too heavy and sweet right on the nose and palate at first for my taste. That's especially true when one first opens the bottle. With time, the single malt scotch notes start coming through. It's important to keep in mind that this isn't just a single malt scotch, it's an extremely old scotch. The leather notes are beautiful. The sweetness gets tempered with the char smoky notes. This whisky gets better as it breathes in the air.
Do I recommend you go out and buy it right this instance? That's a hard question to answer. It really depends on how deeply you've fallen down the rabbit hole of whisky collections. If you only have a few bottles of whisky, Union 52 is probably not your next whisky. If you have a vast collection, this is a whisky one needs to try. If you absolutely love Canadian whisky, this will take you places you didn't think Canadian whisky could go. For me, as much as I love Canadian whisky, it falls on the too sweet side of the curve.
J.P. Wiser’s Union 52
Nose: Citrus, honey, old oak, heavy candied orange peel, dark chocolate, soda. Some hints of old oak, like walking into a room with wood paneling everywhere that hasn't been dusted in quite a while. That dusty oak opens up to a more beautiful wine-cellar charred sort of note. That old leather note is there as well.
Palate: It has that old oak that spreads gentle pepper spice along the palate, with a nice blend of butter, licorice, and cinnamon spice. Hits some great notes, but lacks some acidity to break-up the palate. When given time to rest, more beautiful char notes come through wonderfully. The old leather notes are gorgeous. Rich. It's a fatty whisky. Oily. Substantial.
Whisky Cabinet Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ Good whisky, but not a ‘must-have’ (unless you have a big whisky collection, in which case, have at it!)
It's a little heavy. It's super sweet. It's very intriguing. Reading other reviews, I get the impression that those that find this whisky peated (I don't, not really) get a nice break from the sweetness because of that peat. I find the sweetness and oily texture clawing at my palate. However, with time in the glass, the whisky evolves. The heavy sweet notes dissipate and the complex leathery notes come through. It takes time to hit the top score, but it's time well spent.