Sazerac 18 Rye, Ethyl Carbamate, and The Failed Test in Ontario

Photo by Suresh Doss

Photo by Suresh Doss

Sazerac 18 rye, one of the five Buffalo Trace Antique Collection releases this year, failed LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) lab testing. The rumour is the levels of ethyl carbamate were above the LCBO’s limit. This was the probable reason given to me, and others, when calling the helloLCBO number. However, an LCBO spokesperson told me that the results are proprietary and would not confirm the reason behind the failed results.

Ethyl carbamate is a byproduct of consumer goods that go through fermentation. It’s found in bread, beer, soy sauce, kimchi, rum, whisky and many other products. Ethyl carbamate was found to be a probable carcinogen in the 1940s, and discovered in beverages specifically in the 1980s. While present in all fermented products, manufacturers have since taken on measures to reduce these levels. Products that are processed at high temperatures, such as through distillation, tend to have more ethyl carbamate. Concerns around ethyl carbamate seem to be about prolonged exposure from a variety of foods and drinks, rather than specifically from whisky.

The Sazerac 18 sold this year, as it has been for the past several years, was distilled in around 1990. After eighteen years of aging, the whisky was moved to a vat to stop the barrel maturation process. American industries focused on reducing ethyl carbamate levels in the late 80s, but this wasn’t an easy solution to tackle. It’s reasonable to assume the levels of ethyl carbamate would be higher in this very old whisky.

The LCBO has a maximum limit for ethyl carbamate levels for all alcohol beverages sold in Ontario. It’s important to note that there have been no safety concerns with Sazerac 18 sold in the US. As with any substance, safety recommended minimums will vary from country to country.

LCBO overturned its original decision to not sell Sazerac 18 after reviewing the results. As I was told by the LCBO, with rare wines and whiskies, the LCBO will make an exception due to the limited distribution of the product. There are only 24 bottles coming into Ontario.

The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, which includes Sazerac 18 Rye, will be available for order on Thursday November 26th. The LCBO will use a lottery system to distribute these whiskies. I highly recommend them if they’re within your price-range (about $130 per bottle). You can read my review