Masterson's Straight Rye 10 Year Old Review - Best Canadian Whisky 2017 (And Best Rye Anywhere)

I was one of ten judges scoring the Canadian Whisky Awards for 2017. Masterson's Straight Rye 10 Year Old (Batch PSA3-0035) scored as my the best Canadian whisky, and it also averaged as the best overall Canadian whisky from the judges narrowly beating Gooderham & Warts Four Grain and Lot No 40.

Batch PSA3-0035 is not only the best Canadian whisky, but it's the best rye you can buy anywhere at 45% ABV. It's a strong contender against any of the great American ryes (Pikesville Rye, Colonel E.H. Tayler Rye, and possibly some of the Handy Rye releases as well).

Not all batches of Masterson's Rye are at this caliber, but the majority of them are at near the same level. For me, Masterson's is an example of where Canadian whisky is going. It's ironic, though, that this whisky is made in Alberta (Alberta Distillers) but bottled in the United States by an Californian winery (more on this later). 

While I was writing The Whisky Cabinet in 2013, Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Rye was game-changer for me on how I felt about Canadian ryes. Masterson's Straight Rye showed where the whisky industry could go, satisfying the palates that were looking for whisky with a bit more edge and heft.

Masterson's also showed that marketing and an excellent product can compliment one another. By all accounts, I should have disliked Masterson's. Back in 2014, I wrote:

The whisky is named after the American William "Bat" Masterson that is described on the bottle as a gambler, buffalo hunter, army scout, gunfighter, and newspaper man. The name has no relationship to the whisky, but the old photo of William Masterson (along with his story) on the curved, attention-grabbing bottle is a nice stroke of branding. I'm not against clever branding to get people to buy the whisky as long as the product itself is of high quality. And it is.

"And it is." Or was, rather. My rave review is based on Batch 005. Not all batches of Masterson's have been winners, however. The batch released into the LCBO in late 2016 (Batch 015) was my (nearly) least favorite of the bunch, and it had me questioning where Masterson's was going next.

And then I tasted batch number PSA3 blindly when judging the Canadian Whisky Awards. As mentioned, I rated it the best whisky I’ve tasted out of the 70 or so samples. Having tasted this and the two other batches in the competition, I've been won over by Masterson's all over again. 

Important Note on Alberta Distillers and Beam Suntory

Masterson's is a brand of 35 Maple Street Spirits, a company owned by the Sebastiani California wine family (3 Badge Beverage Corporation). They've been purchasing barrels of whisky from Alberta Distillers and bottling Masterson's as a straight rye in America (with distribution into Canada as well).

We need to see more ryes like this out of Alberta Distillers. There were a total of six whiskies from the distillery. Masterson's picked up two gold medals and a silver medal, Canadian Club 100% Rye picked up a silver medal, and there were two bronze winners (Alberta Premium & Alberta Premium Dark Horse). Beam Suntory owns the Alberta distillery, so I'm left to question, why aren't they releasing their higher quality ryes under their own brand? I'd be shocked if we didn't see something new in 2017. 

Masterson's 10 Year Old Rye Batch by Batch Review

Batch 001 (Purchased in Quebec summer of 2016, likely poorly stored by )

Score: 82
Nose: Rye notes, caramel, burnt butter at first, fades away. Orange zest. Charred. Cinnamon. Soda, light ginger. Wonderful caramel keeps coming through.
Palate: Caramel, oaky, usual rye. Oily. Burnt sulphur. Lots of sulphur. Not peppery enough. The rye is hidden with burnt caramel and butter. The finish is short. It kind of hangs there.

Whisky Cabinet Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆  Not recommended
This is on par with an average Canadian bottom-shelf rye. Maybe this bottle was an oddity? It's possible that it was a bad part of the batch run. More likely, though, this bottle could have been exposed to sunlight when shelved at the store. It's impossible to tell. This was a tasting of  a friend's bottle, purchased in Quebec. 

Batch 001 (Purchased in Quebec earlier in 2016)

Score: 93.5
Nose: Brown sugar, yeast, lovely caramel sweetness, and spicy rye. Beautiful beautiful nose.
Palate: Wonderful spread of flavour, licorice (complimented with dark chocolate) comes through in a punchy way, and the oak spice hits the palate.

Whisky Cabinet Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆  Excellent, a near must-have
Beautiful rye, with that lovely licorice and dark chocolate combination that's spectacular. It's long finish and balance of flavors makes it a winning rye. 

Batch 003

Score: 93
Nose: More distiller-grain forward. Nice well composed nose. Deeper darker brown sugar, caramel, a lovely whirlpool of flavour you can just fall into.
Palate: Nice tangy blood orange notes, smokier, char, beautifully rich and deep. Damn.

Whisky Cabinet Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆  Excellent, a near must-have
A little sharper than batch 001, but very similar in flavors. Touch more bitter. It lacks a little of the complexity that the second tasting of Batch 001 possessed, but it makes up for it with plenty of flavor. 

Batch 005

Score: 93
Nose: Fresh citrus, barnyard dust, and floral notes. Unripe banana perks up your senses, though it's slightly heavier with sweetness.
Palate: Wonderful vanilla from the oak, gentle but present, with peppery spice that mingles in wonderfully. Liquorice peeks up beneath the spice, along with earthy notes that lead into a dry spicy finish.

Whisky Cabinet Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆  Excellent, a near must-have
Complexity isn't why I love batch 005, but rather it's the simplicity and perfection of flavor. There's a wonderful subtle show of flavors that highlights Canadian rye wonderfully. It's a little simpler and yet just as delicious.

Batch 015

Score: 87
Nose: Soda, watered down caramel, soft. A little bit of ginger. Richer caramel notes do come out.
Palate: Nice punchlines, a little too much in terms of caramel notes, and the rye isn't as bright. Unlike the others, this has a harsher finish. It lacks the lovely complexity found in other batches.

Whisky Cabinet Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆  Good whisky, but not a ‘must-have’
Lacks the caramel sweetness. Tastes a little more ordinary, and a little too young. At this price-point, Batch 015 fails to satisfy the required quality expected considering the competition out there that has cheaper and better ryes. 

Batch PSA3-0035 (Canadian Whisky Award Blind tasting notes)

Score: 96
Nose: Sharp simple, light caramel, high spice, great golden color. Some dust. Nice zesty notes. Really nicely put-together nose, even if it briefly smelled off. That went away. Beautiful fresh orange just squeezed (almost blood orange level but not quite). Licorice. Hard candy. Pepper. Fresh bright.
Palate: Brightly orange zest sweetness, caramel, zesty, peppery, light. Such wonderful highs. Nice brown sugar. Just ridiculously well composed. Great balance. Lovely highs. Not too sweet, not too sharp. Wow. 

Whisky Cabinet Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  Extraordinary, memorable, and original
Bright, zesty, complex, sweet, and natural. This is the best rye at 45% ABV anywhere in the world, by far. It'll be competitive against any the great American ryes, and truly, it'll do well against any American whiskies. 

Batch PSF3-0320 (Canadian Whisky Award Blind tasting notes)

Score: 89
Nose: Spongy, caramel sweetness, cinnamon spice, buttery, brown sugar. Orange zest. Some hard lime. Some nuttiness.
Palate: Beautiful composed, excellent progression of sweet and peppery. Quite the long finish. So damn refreshing, and dry enough that it makes you want to drink more. It's nicely sharp. Either proofed higher or younger. Either way, it's excellent.

Whisky Cabinet Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆  Your great regular rotation whisky that'll come and go
Pretty great rounded rye. There's a nice push of flavour. Considering the rye category, it's not quite as competitive. Batch PSF3-0320 did win a gold medal as judged by the Canadian whisky awards (though it was not a gold medal by my scoring). 

Batch PSH3-0116 (Canadian Whisky Award Blind tasting notes)

Score: 87
Nose: Rich melted caramel, toffee notes. Orange citrus (though edging on lemon notes as well). Apple oak. Peppery zest.
Palate: Beautiful! Nice spread of caramel and rye and oak spice. Peppery. Long finish. Really quite lovely whisky!

Whisky Cabinet Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆  Good whisky, but not a ‘must-have’
Lacks some complexity, of the better batches of Masterson's Rye. At a score of 87, this would be a fine rye for a cheaper price, but at a premium price-point I couldn't recommend buying batch PSH3-0116. This batch won a silver medal in the Canadian Whisky Awards, and the least favourite of the Masterson's batches as scored by the ten judges. It was also the least favorite on my score sheet. 

Overall Impression

Overall, I have a strong recommendation for Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Rye worthy of the premium price-point. I do strongly recommend that batch numbers be considered when making your purchase. Any of the batches that score over 90 are excellent buys, though batch PSA3-0035 is the one to chase after. Masterson's is a peak into what Alberta Distillers is capable of doing, and a big credit to 35 Maple Street for their selection of barrels and dedication to bottling a terrific rye!