In the summer of 2017, Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore called the Hiram-Walker warehouse manager to ask that the six barrels intended for the that afternoon’s tasting be brought outdoors. It was August, and the day of the eclipse. I had joked about pulling out the barrels so the whisky inside ‘matures’ under the eclipse. Jennifer Chan, who was on the media tour with me, called it “Eclipsky!” We laughed. It wasn’t about whether or not the whisky would taste any differently under an eclipse (I’m sure Don Livermore, with his Ph. D in brewing and distillation, would tell us it doesn’t), but it was about the experience.
With the eclipse starting up overhead, we removed the bungs of each of the six barrels in haste rather than ceremony. Using a whisky thief, we poured six samples, that we enjoyed during the eclipse. At the time we didn’t know these barrels would make up one-third of this year’s Lot No. 40 Cask Strength. Eclipsky took life in this year’s Lot No. 40 Cask Strength.
Lot No. 40 (without the cask strength) is already an award winning rye, made of 100% rye grain, and aged in new American oak barrels much like American straight ryes are made. It’s not, however, an American rye. It’s both column distilled (as is done in America) and pot distilled (as is done in Scotland). This combination of stills helps narrow down the clear rye flavour notes. The regular release is at a terrific price (usually around $38 Canadian), and has these wonderful, clean floral and perfume notes from the rye. The result is a drink that is great for sipping, and mixes beautifully in a cocktail.
There’s never been a need to release Lot No. 40 at cask strength. It’s not that much stronger in proof. It’s not that much richer. It’s not that much better, really, and yet it’s terrific for all the opposite reasons Lot No. 40 is terrific. The regular release is the perfect rye, balanced between oaky notes and spicy rye notes. The cask strength version is a little more chaotic; with a lot more oak spice, more rye notes, but just as balanced. It’s the same drink, but amped up just that touch with added time in barrels (regular Lot No. 40 is said to be around 6 to 8 years) and alcohol percentage.
This year's bottling spent eleven years in barrels, compared to last year’s twelve. They simply didn’t have enough 12 year old barrels to produce a 12 year age-statement product. I’m told next year’s release will be back to the 12 year old age statement, though, making this a potential unique buy. The proof is also approximately 3.4% higher compared to last year’s cask strength release. It’s a different vintage of the same drink. It’s more intense, more focused, and a little less herbal.
Lot 40 Cask Strength (2018) 11 Year Old 58.4%
Nose: Those all familiar Lot 40 Rye notes come through beautifully, tempered with caramel sweetness. With Lot No 40 it was never about complexity for me, but it was all about how perfect the nose is. Clean, clever, direct. It’s the two aspects that work so well, the perfectly clean rye notes, combined with beautiful new oak caramel notes. The caramel notes are sweet, intense, and just a touch of char rounds the characteristic. Freshly squeezed blood orange citrus rounds out the nose.
Palate: Less reminiscent of Lot No. 40 (regular). Tight rye notes, hot and boozy start to finish, with warm peppery spice that moves its way through the palate. A touch of char (it decimates quickly) is noted, but mostly you get a delicious tangy and sweet palate that is peppery, boozy, and heavy on the rye notes. There are herbal notes as well (black tea, current, etc.), but they’re faint (compared to last year).
Final Thoughts: Let’s talk about drinkability. The intensity of cask strength whiskies (George T. Stagg as an example) doesn’t always make them daily drinkers. 2017 Lot No. 40 was unique— It was both cask strength, and it was a whisky I could drink daily. This year’s release is a great whisky (and I scored it well because of it), but it lacks the drinkability of last year’s whisky. For that reason, it might draw more people into the brand that love ridiculously boozy whisky, but it might also alienate the drinker that found last year’s whisky approachable. Saying that, at $99 Canadian ($30 more than last year) it’s a terrific buy, it’s just not quite as versatile as it was last year. Also, like it’s lower-proof sibling, it makes for a terrific (and very boozy) Manhattan!
★ ★ ★ ★ Extraordinary, memorable, and original in any category
*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
Disclosure: I was provided with a bottle of this whisky by Corby’s Wine & Spirits, though it had no barring on this review, and I have since purchased additional bottles.