Ross Hendry, Pernod-Ricard’s director of premium Canadian Whisky, is bullish on his company’s next move: “Mark this moment in your memories. Years from now we will look back at it as pivotal in the journey we are on to drive the reappraisal of our national spirit.” After the success of J.P. Wiser’s Rare Cask releases (including Union 52, Dissertation, and Last Barrels), the Canadian division of Pernod-Ricard (Corby’s Spirits and Wines) is ready to make the big move.
The Northern Border Collection is part of a fundamental shift in Canadian Whisky, stepping outside of the big overlapping brand template (Crown Royal, Canadian Club, J.P. Wiser’s), and toward smaller extra premium brands. If you’re a bourbon fan, consider Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. It’s a premium brand of bourbons and ryes that are released in small quantities. Few get their hands on a BTAC (as they’re referred to). However, because each of the five BTAC releases traces back to regular releases from Buffalo Trace Distillery, they help sell premium whiskies that are more available (Eagle Rare, Blanton’s, Sazerac Rye, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, W.L. Weller, etc..).
People flock for BTAC because it’s rare, and also because it represents the best of American bourbon and rye. In that same way, the Northern Border Collection (NBC) is the best of Canadian whisky from Hiram-Walker Distillery. This is the goal of the Northern Border Collection—it’s here to provide an incredible value considering the rareness of the release. Ross Hendry, Pernod-Richard’s director from premium Canadian Whisky, puts this best:
“There were two guiding principles as we started to look at developing this range. First, we wanted to release the finest range of Canadian Whiskies ever brought together. Second, we wanted to showcase value every step of the way. This range gives us the chance to show off the amazing liquids our people craft at Hiram Walker Distillery. It helps our customers drive the Canadian Whisky category. It gives us the chance to engage our consumers with incredible scarce liquids at relatively reasonable prices.”
Northern Border Collection will be an annual release, but each year, the products are likely to be different. For example (and purely speculating on my part), Pikecreek is the ‘finished’ release where well-aged Canadian whisky will be finished in different barrels. Gooderham and Worts is possibly a play on grains (this year, it’s three grains). Lot No 40 is the cask strength release, but will it always be rye (again, purely speculating)? And of course, expect there to be an old J.P. Wiser’s release like this year’s 35 year old whisky.
I’m excited for these releases. It’s what the Canadian whisky industry needs. The Northern Border Collection will be available at the LCBO, it’s already available in Alberta, and there will be opportunities to purchase these releases in Europe and the US (more on that when it becomes available).
We interviewed Dr. Don Livermore, Hiram-Walker's master blender, on episode 101 of The Whisky Topic.